31 December 2010

Breaking up in/with 2010

I began 2010 standing in the snow in Wisconsin, overlooking a pond, thinking about how I had arrived at that particular place at that particular time. Travelling home always does that to me--makes me introspective about the choices I have made. This year I am not home. I will likely end 2010 sitting in my office and preparing for a year which is pretty much already laid out for me, with a couple of big wild cards.

This year, at the end of the day, was about positioning myself for the next five to ten years of my life. It was full of considering the options and hopefully starting to move towards a sustainable life after I finish my PhD. When it comes down to it, I think I decided that my life will go one of two ways: either in Japan or not. Perhaps this sounds pretty useless or obvious, but for me it was useful to understand it in those terms. Other than that, I'm not sure I have resolved much. I still don't know what is the best for my family, for my career, for our quality of life. Of course, it's less dramatic than all that: we'll, as Yoko said at one point this year, do something and we'll live with it and she will be happy. It's as simple as that.

This year was a lot of things, but it was not a happy year for me. It's not something I like to reflect too much on, but perhaps it's worth thinking about. The metaphor I keep coming back to is being on the edge of a wave on a surfboard, trying to stay ahead. It's an exhilarating feeling, but when was the last time I relaxed... It's been a while. This is largely the result of my context, particularly a grey winter and another hard first trimester of pregnancy. These things will pass — I think the Beatles said that. 

I have a rather simple set of goals for the New Year:
  • To shave every day and get my haircut every 4 to 6 weeks. This is simple enough, but a step forward in my effort to be more presentable.
  • To keep up my practice of weighing myself every day and keeping my weight within my goal range of 74-76 kgs.
  • To be nearing a first draft of my PhD thesis by the end of 2011. 60-70% drafted
  • Something about being a better person. I'm not sure how to word it this year. Blog posts in January about it, I'm sure.
That's a bizarre list, but I think it's reasonable. 31 December 2011: what will I be reflecting on then? So many things to happen between now and then.

Happy New Year, everyone. Stay well this next year, hey?

Found things

I finally found a folder I've been looking for the last year or so. Has all of my writing in it, journals, etc. Some extracts will follow, but I like this one, from early 2005, about riding my scooter:
And I said as I was leaving, Don’t watch me drive my bike. I’m very self-conscious.

30 December 2010


Vasectomy, that's the V-word if you haven't figured it out.
  1. When people have sex, but don't get pregnant, lots of the time there is something artificially, chemically going on. All these perfect families with 2.3 kids are not what nature intended. Nature intended:
  2. Women get pregnant, often lose their children in pregnancy or at a very young age and often die in the process. This is nature's way of reigning in the population.
  3. In the modern world, you have a couple of choices: do something to stop from getting pregnant or try to live a life that is ultimately unsustainable in our society with five to fifteen kids. 
We live in a world where you have to do some sort of birth control. I'm fine with this, for the most part. It makes the world a much better place in a lot of ways. But, and this is a big but, it's not the way it naturally is. And any time you fuck with nature, things happen. Dealing with the problems that come up from family planning, then, must be put in prospective: it is a problem you are creating for yourself. Don't want kids? Don't have sex with someone of the opposite sex. Problem solved.

Well, that solution is not likely going to work for me, so it's time to think about alternatives. Our family is (or soon will be) complete. Three kids is the cap in both Yoko and my mind and now we are looking to the future in which a) we intend to still occasionally have sex, but b) without wanting to get pregnant. Anyone who has followed my life for any regular period of time knows that getting pregnant for us has never been a struggle. It happens without much work. And that is, all things in common, a really good gift.

If we want to stop procreating past 2011, something is going to have to happen. After looking at all the options, it seems that for people who don't want to ever have any more kids, the vasectomy is really the easiest, simplest option. All the chemical solutions for the ladies have side effects that are not really desirable and press against my belief that life starts when there is a new set of zeros and ones in the room with you and your partner (and no, I don't want to argue about that, and yes, whatever you think about it is fine, and no, I don't think you should have to agree with me).

So the vasectomy. Very effective in the long run — very few side effects. Well, very few, but one significant one that has me pausing: about 2-5% of men who have a vasectomy develop chronic testicular pain. There are differing levels of the pain and if the pain is chronic and you reverse the vasectomy, the pain goes away for a large majority of the sufferers, so we're talking about potentially a very, very small subset of people.

Still, if you are unlucky enough to be one of those guys, I suspect it isn't a lot of fun. As a person who is interested in statistics and numbers and probability, I can accept a 1 in 30 chance of having this problem. As I said to my sister, we live in a world where pain is remarkably mediated. The thought of having occasional testicular pain would probably be something that a person living in 1740 dealing with a fifth miscarriage would gladly take over going through another failed pregnancy.

Me? I am selfish. Why do I have to do it? Why is it my responsibility? I like my testes the way they are: pain free and happy.

The other bits of the vasectomy that trouble men in general (feelings of loss of manhood, lack of clarity about wanting more children, getting your balls cut up) don't really bother me at all. I opted out of the 'I'm a man's man' game after I gave up little league football and I am more than happy to never have another child. I've seen some discreet video of the surgery on the Internet too and it seems pretty non-invasive. Well, as non-invasive as these things can be.

I need some new words to write about this too: scrotum is too medical, nut (ball) sac(k) is too juvenile. We need better words to talk about our junk (better than junk, for sure).

So I have my initial consultancy this next week and then it should happen pretty quickly, within a couple of months, I imagine, although I will probably wait until I come back from the States in February. It's not very invasive, so you go home when it's done and have to 'take it easy' (whatever the hell that means) for a couple of days. And when I'm done, I will be shooting blanks and not worrying about having a fourth Pihlaja, hopefully pain free.

2010 Recap coming later today or tomorrow, if it's in the stars. I think it is. Had to get this one out of me first.

23 December 2010

Coming to an end

There are maybe three people left on my floor today: everyone has gone home and I have just finished coding the first 9 videos of my data. This may not sound like much, but they were the longest in the dataset, one being (with comments) about 6 times as long as the average of the other videos. Also, as I had to put most of my initial energy into getting the coding scheme right, it was a tedious process. Certainly, there is a lot I have missed at this point, but it is good progress and I can say that I ended this academic year well. Not ended exactly: I imagine I will be tempted to look at this stuff over the next week or so. But today marks the official end of academic 2010 for me.

It was a good year. Probably my best year to date, actually. I think the second year of the PhD is probably the best, least stressful of the three, even though I am only a quarter of the way through it. I will make the remaining 75% as stressful as possible, I imagine. It's how I roll.

Well, goodbye for now, Stuart Hall Building Level 1 corner desk with all of your pictures and postcards. I will see you next year, on 4 January. Until then, stay warm.

I will have a proper recap post of the year, all things included, either tonight or tomorrow. My sister is flying in (provided Heathrow gets its SH together) tomorrow afternoon. After that, perhaps I will disappear for a while.

20 December 2010

Father Christmas!

New baby, new due date

The baby is due, according to the ultrasound, on 26 June. Real hardcore blog stalkers will recognise this as one day before my birthday.

19 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

Great as long as you don't have to drive.

We gotta stop eating this while we're making it

When two of the least patient people in the house try to make a gingerbread house, good things don't happen.

17 December 2010

Presentations in the new year

The titles from the five presentations I have in the pipes for the new year. Shifting interests, perhaps?

Who Would Jesus Hang Out With? Categories, Metaphors, and Ambiguity in YouTube Religious Discourse (accepted Religion and Spirituality in Society Conference, Chicago, 15-17 February 2011)

Are you 'human garbage' in God's eyes?: investigating metaphor and antagonism in YouTube video discourse (accepted Talk about Language Forum, Middlesex University, London, 7 March)
‘I love your metaphors so much’: Anaphoric metaphor use and reference in YouTube comment threads (proposed iMean conference, Bristol, UK, April 2011)

Vines, Branches, and Human Garbage: The emergence of Biblical metaphor use in Evangelical Christian discourse on YouTube (proposed RaAM workshop, Toledo, Spain, May 2011)

‘When you deal in metaphors...’: Negotiating category membership with metaphor in YouTube video comments (proposed BAAL Conference, Bristol, UK, September 2011)

16 December 2010

Bare Pass

Just barely passed my final, it looks like. 14 points. Too close. Well. Tragedy averted and something like a 70 overall is not too bad. Not great, but hey, I'll take what I can get. As I was doing about forty other things last year, passing (which was my stated goal) is nice.

Web 2.0 and you

A couple of blog entries have been bouncing around in me this week, but I have been busy working both on work and my studies and caring for my seemingly endless list of thankless tasks at home. I have discovered, however, that by waking up at 5, one can get an extra hour of work done and this only requires not going back to bed like you did at 12, 2, and 3:30 to clean up a pee'd bed, feed someone, and/or migrate to a different bed as whichever bed you started in is now filled with people who don't want you in it.

But. No complaining. Things press on.

I have been in a couple of discussions in the last three weeks or so about (re)presentation of self on the Internet in particular. Making the issue more prescient, I have noticed via Google analytics that my site has been visited (sometimes at length) by potential employers. Now, in general, I think I am pretty comfortable with how I portray myself on the Internet these days. Although my archive of entries probably includes embarrassing material, I am more-or-less okay with that. As I said to my famed older brother, if someone spends forty minutes reading my blog and doesn't like me and/or want to hire me at the end of the day, that's probably for the best: this really is who I am, or rather, who I want to present myself to be.

Who I am is, of course, shifting and contextual. In one of the discussions I was in, I made the distinction between people I swear in front of and people I don't, but that is really a poor way of describing it. It's more complicated. I can cast it any number of ways, an infinite number of things I do and don't do depending on whom I am talking with.

When I was a religious child/teenager, there was a lot of pressure on me (and everyone in our group) to behave in the same way everywhere: church, school, whatever. You needed to present yourself in a good, Christian way so that people would mark (or, as my PhD research is showing, categorise) you as a Christian, and therefore different, and therefore inherently better than the people around you. The goal was then to have people ask you why you were so different and good (why you didn't swear or cheat on a test or drink at parties), and you could then tell them, It's because Jesus is my personal Lord and Saviour: are you interested in knowing more?

This is pretty shoddy logic, and the Mormons, it turns out, are much better at this sort of bait and switch evangelism than the Evangelicals.

With a career where I am a researcher, teacher, and student; relationship with a spouse where I was a friend and then boyfriend, but became a husband; relationship with my immediate family where I am a son and brother and now uncle; and children where I am a father... this 'who I am' question seems ridiculous, particularly in terms of a religious affiliation. I want to go back to 15, 17, or 19 year-old me sitting, listening obediently to whatever pastor was pumping me full of institutional nonsense and tell me:

Perhaps that is how I see this blog. Institutions are controlling me all the time, censoring me through the sense of right and wrong they have instilled in me. I am pretty ambivalent about this because I know I can never really escape anyway. I want to, when I can, document my life in a way that I find interesting. And hopefully in a way that you, dear reader, also find interesting. When those two things are aligned, I think I am most happy. Perhaps I can push the boundaries sometimes, cuss a bit here and there, but with the understanding that even these small expressions of disobedience are inconsequential and probably part of remaining obedient, as I have the satisfaction of feeling rebellious when I am, in fact, not rebelling against anything at all.

13 December 2010

12 December 2010

Posts of the year, 2010

Here are my favourite posts from the last year.

5 months of healthy living

Another successful month, I think.

Time Period Total Weight Change (kg) Weekly Weight Change Rate (kg) Daily Calorie Deficit/Excess
1 Week
30 Days
All Time

08 December 2010

Every morning

Say what you want about the cold, this is just about enough.

06 December 2010


One affordance of being a student is time to read. It's required, actually. You have to read. So today, after finishing some coding work on my data (which perhaps I will try to explain to the uninitiated one day) I took two books to the cafe section of the refectory to get one of the 'homemade' biscuit/ cakes they are selling and do some reading. I was successful and actually got through one book cover-to-cover. Words upon the Word: an Ethnography of Evangelical group Bible study. It's a winner. Lots of stuff I need for my work. It did, however, mean that I didn't get to the other one, Visual Methodologies. Tomorrow, I suppose.

What am I learning? Well, I'm learning that the world is what we make it.

I am writing an outline for my literature review for my thesis. This is a good next step for me. I feel it will be one of the harder parts to get right as there are so many disparate things I have to follow up to be successful, but I will do my best. I have about three small holes to fill in it with some reading that I have not done (or haven't done with the right focus). There is some chance I will have this more-or-less done by March. This will count as making good time, as far as I'm concerned. We'll see how the analysis works out, but I have now looked at 4 for the 25 transcripts I need to, with the two longest ones coming up this week. If can get through ten before Christmas, I will be really happy. Something can always happen.

Affordances: in Niigata and in Japan in general, the houses are not especially well-insulated. So there are things you have like kerosene space heaters and low tables with space heaters under them called kotatsu. The need to be close to the heater draws people together: you spend the evenings sitting under the kotatsu with your family, reading, drinking tea, and watching TV. It's a question of what to remember, the cold house or the warm space heater.

Nikuman. Coffee in cans in vending machines. Twenty four hour diners. There were all these things that got me through the winter in Japan. Question: What gets me through the winter here?

Answer: The XX record, which by the way, is like being heavily sedated. It's so good for this weather. I am becoming someone who likes winter a whole hell of a lot. I wonder how long this will last before I start to hate it. I'm really savouring the darkness right now though. Another affordance: the weather matches my melancholy.
Maybe I had said, something that was wrong
Can I make it better, with the lights turned on
This record reminds me so much of being 15/ 16. What a gift.

05 December 2010

2 July 2011

I'm not sure how this happened, but after going to see the midwife, the baby is now due on 2 July 2011. At this rate, s/he will be born in August.

How's the PhD?

What a peculiar question you are asked sometimes as a PhD student. How is my PhD, that's a good question. It's personified now. It's like a child or a wife. It's something I have to tend to, have a meaningful relationship with.

You can't ever answer the question: 'How's your PhD?' with 'Great! Couldn't be better!' No, you must have a sense of weight and seriousness — you need to look the part. '::heavy sigh:: Well...' Oh, I probably shouldn't have asked, sorry. 'Oh, no, no, it's going fine, it's just... No, no, it's fine. Making slow progress.' And then the other person nods knowingly, even if they don't have a PhD.

This isn't a question you ask of other degrees (How's the BA? or How's the MA?). No, only the PhD is a person, following you around and keeping you up at night with its incessant nattering. A colleague who just finished talked about it being a boot on his neck. Hell, I thought, really? A boot on your neck has been lifted? I thought we were being educated here.

Perhaps I believe too much in this process, in the PhD as a useful thing. I came in knowing why I needed it, and I am seeing how it will change my life for the better when I leave. I love the process of it and although it is like a boot on the neck in some ways, the adversity makes it all the more interesting. We're going to doctors when this is all done: if it were easy, everyone would be a doctor.

How is the PhD? Well, it's fine, thanks for asking. It'll be done soon enough.

04 December 2010


I've been feeling quite manic this last week: so much to do in such a small amount of time. I presented on Monday, got my Birmingham essays on Tuesday, prepared for and taught on Friday, worked on setting up my analysis of my transcripts for my PhD, took the wife to the doctor on Wednesday, and got batch of essays from Middlesex students. From now I have to mark the Middlesex essays, prepare for my last supervision of 2010 on Wednesday, prepare for a teacher's forum presentation at Middlesex on Friday, and prepare my classes and final exam for the Middlesex classes. The snow threw a significant wrench in my plans, making it incredibly difficult to get to work, but surprisingly, it has not been sapping my energy. I feel quite motivated, manic as I said, and working all hours with no effect on my general health. This will come crashing down, hopefully right around 6:30 on 17 December, when I will have completed my responsibilities for the year and can put down my guns for a couple of weeks.

02 December 2010

懐かしい, or things in the air

Snow, mainly. There is snow in the air.

I have to say that I have really been enjoying the snow. It has made me feel, as the Japanese say, 懐かしい. This word, pronounced 'natsukashii' means basically 'nostalgia', but it is used in a different way that the English word 'nostalgia'. I feel natsukashii when it snows: I think about Chicago and have all sorts of bittersweet feelings and want to go home and not go home at the same time. I mostly want to go home: it's been a while since I missed Christmas and it's been almost six years since we weren't with some sort of extended family. This year, my sister is coming, which will be great, but I still want to go home.

The snow has not kept me off my bike, although I did switch to Yoko's bike this morning, which is a mountain bike and does much better in the snow, although it is far, far too small for me. I was able to make it up and down hills without sliding and it's a bit like being on a snowmobile, or how I imagine being on a snowmobile to be.

Yoko is feeling a little better which bodes well for me getting some work done this weekend. I am both literally and metaphorically snowed under, but by about next Wednesday, it should begin to lighten and by the 17th, when I will have my last class at Middlesex for the year, I will be almost entirely free. I will go to work three days of the week of the 20th, I think and then take a full week and two days off for the holiday. Extravagant.

The end of the year is rolling around and having met some of my goals financially and academically and personally, I feel a bit like some relaxing may be in order for me. Not too much though: my weight, for example, still needs constant vigilance and I feel myself slipping back into wanting to eat too much and my weight ticked up today, not expectantly. This means that I need to keep up the exercise, which is hard this week as it has been so cold and I am marking essays from Birmingham. Without an extra half an hour at night to row, I am a bit lethargic. I have felt on at least two occasions this week completely without desire to do a task that was in front of me: write a simple e-mail, mark an essay, whatever. I hate that feeling and it only comes when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Well, like I said, by the end of December 8th, things should be back in order. Just have to press on until then and try not to think too much about not going home. Everything in its right place.

30 November 2010


There is about three inches of snow on the ground in Milton Keynes. Not able to ride my bike, and uninterested in driving, I have taken to walking to work. It's only about an hour, and much less stressful than driving. Hopefully the snow will melt enough today for a safe ride tomorrow, but until then, iPod on, cares to the wind.

Some clarity has come again, after a chat with my wife about the future, our future with the family. It occurred to me over the last month that there are tons of opportunities open to me, it's just that none of them look like what I expected them to look like. And that if I am open to something I didn't expect, I'm probably going to be very pleasantly surprised. So, new rule: I'm open to anything, anywhere. Yoko, I realised as we talked last night, is the kind of person who is likely to find the good in wherever we are, in whatever we are doing. The reason England is so good for her is that she has made it good for her. Flexibility and the ability to make things good for yourself is a very valuable thing to have in a spouse, especially if you live the kind of life that we live. I, in contrast, am skilled at making good things bad... perhaps I should work on this...

Anyway: the door is open, wide open.

29 November 2010

Seagrams coming home

Presenting, representing

I should be preparing to present in about a half hour, but I have had a busy morning and I'm not in the mood. I've talked about this data like four times this year, so I'm confident that it's going to go okay. I'm not too concerned.

In a follow up to yesterday's post, Yoko called to say a Parcelforce driver (not the one that left the parcel) had come by looking for it. His solution? Go door-to-door asking people. Of course, nobody was home (nobody is EVER home, except like the one time this guy comes by last week) so he said he would come back with the original driver later and have him sort it. Yoko may have her glasses back before the end of the week, perhaps.

It's also been wicked cold here, well below freezing for like a week which is strange for this time of year, in my limited experience. I suit up to ride my bike in the morning, and I'm thinking, I'm going to be dressing up like this four days a week for the next three months, save the week off for Christmas and the week off when I go to Chicago. I should estimate how much money I've saved and how much weight I've kept off thanks to cycling. It's tough in the winter, but much better than driving. Driving is so stressful, I really hate it. I guess I will just have to be courageous against the cold and careful not to slip especially when it's dark.

I'm sending out my first job application today. Sort of nervous about it, but we'll see. This would be a nice one to get, but if I don't, it's not the end of the world. I have plenty of time. If it does happen to work out, it looks like a really good place for me in the mid-term run--a good place to really work on my research and have a good, even teaching load. I shouldn't get too excited about it: gotta tamp down my expectations.

28 November 2010

Thanks for nothing, Parcelforce

You know, this would be great except that the parcel has not been left at House 46. The people at House 46 weren't in all day. The dispatcher has been incredibly useless ('Have you tried any other houses?') How many should I check, dispatcher?
'Uh, hey, I'm your neighbour and, uh, I got this card that said a parcel was delivered to House 46 and I know this isn't, you know, House 46 or whatever, but I guess the people at House 46 were out all day and didn't receive the parcel and anyway, I was wondering if you had it?'
Thanks for nothing Parcelforce.

Would you hire me?

Japanese universities usually require a photo with the CV. Here's mine. I look hireable, right?

25 November 2010


I checked the transcripts I needed to. This is my PhD in one folder.

22 November 2010


Say what you want about how little this is, but it's one yen more than I got using Wordpress. Now to get it to pay me in GBP...


This is my first major publication:
Mr Stephen Pihlaja:

We have reached a decision regarding your submission to Fieldwork in Religion, "‘Are you religious or are you saved?’: Defining membership categories rules in religious discussions on YouTube".

Our decision is to: publish article in Edition 6.1

Reviewer B:
article fine as is. no real recommendations


21 November 2010

The secret you learn how to tell

I said some things this week that I finally needed to say about Japan: some secrets that I didn't, as Bon Iver says, know how to tell. I'm not sure that it has done any good, but my mind is starting to turn in the way that it needs to. I must go buy some thick paper for a CV printout this week and get ready for my very first foray into the unknown, deep space just beyond the PhD.

Do for Others

16 November 2010


I was getting some momentum yesterday before the break in, but that seems to be shot. We spent the night cleaning up: forensics came and took prints, but that was more or less a waste of time: the asshole was wearing gloves and, from what it looks like, probably not especially in his right mind. I taped up the window best I could and got most of the mud out of the carpet, but until the window is fixed, I still feel a bit exposed. But it's stupid: the one thing I have learned from this is that you lock your doors, lock your windows, yes, but if someone wants to come into your house, they will. It's that simple. And to think you can somehow get safer or do more than be cautious and somehow insulate yourself from this... you can't. It will happen given the right circumstances.

In the US, we have this sense that we can be independent and protect ourselves, make our own fate. I appreciate that in a lot of ways, even though it is ultimately just an illusion. I don't like the sense that I get here in England that you get broken into, they can't catch the criminal, and that's just the way it is. I want to believe that I'm safe, even if I'm not. 'I have a terrible need for religion,' van Gogh said. Yes, me too: I want to believe in safety, that I can protect my family.

I wrote a short story about this when I was an undergraduate about a guy who goes out and buys a gun after his wife is mugged. It was all about how exposed we all are and how the things we do to protect ourselves only end up making us more distant. It was a distinctly American short story.

I was trying to use gender neutral terms to talk about 'the burglar' but from the size of the boot prints, I think we can say 'he' without any problem. The burglar. I'm so curious about him: what was he looking for? What does he need money for? Why our house?

I'm not angry with you, burglar. I mean, I am, but I'm more curious than angry. Why did you go through the medicine? Didn't you see the lock box? Do you think about me cleaning up after you? Do you wonder about the people whose stuff your dumping on the ground? My wife, my daughters, and you have opened my wardrobe drawer. It's strangely intimate, don't you think? Or do you never think about that? You trespassed every social rule that I can imagine: perhaps I'm just jealous. You do what you want. Or do you leave terrified that you'll be caught? I imagine you do. I imagine that all of this is stressful for you.

Perhaps in a different world, in a different context, I would have just given you money. I would have felt sympathy for you instead of imagining that I, like Batman, would catch you and make you regret having ever set foot in my house. Don't worry: that version of me only exists in my mind. I'm not Batman. I'm a student, sitting at my desk, terrified as I call the police. I waited for my wife to appear below my building and wondered, Has my luck finally run out?

I will be fine, burglar, don't worry about me. You probably won't be though. And I'm sorry for that; I wish it was different.

Leave it to me to over analyse even this. I had to walk to work this morning because I left my bike last night in the rush to get out. I thought to myself, This gives me something to write about. What other times have I been stolen from? I haven't, I don't think. Technically, I still haven't.

As we waited for the police yesterday, I said outloud what I had been thinking since Yoko called: This wouldn't happen in Japan. It's just an observation. You're much more likely to kill yourself in Japan than be killed by someone else. This wouldn't happen in Japan, and I have brought this entry back to where I began, the illusion of security. Of course this would happen in Japan. There is nowhere you can stand behind a thick enough door, at least not at my pay grade. So best to clean up the boot marks, lock the doors, and carry on. I have the best worst luck of anyone I know.

15 November 2010

Broken into

Today, somebody broke into the house while Yoko was out. They came in through the kitchen window and basically tore apart the first floor, particularly Yoko's and my room. And they took... nothing. Not the lock box. Not the iPod. Not the camera. Not the computer. Nothing. This is incredibly strange, I think, but the police tell me that they were probably looking for jewelry and with no jewelry, they left. Bizarre, I think, absolutely bizarre. We're all okay though. This happens quite regularly in this country, I guess. You have to sort of learn to live with it. We are incredibly lucky in even our unluckiness.

But I have to say: muddy bootprints from a stranger in your daughter's bedroom is not a good feeling. When Yoko called me at work, she had just come home to find it and I told her to come to the school immediately, I called the police, and then I waited for the longest ten minutes ever. The police have been great though, our landlord has been great, everything is put away now. It's like it never happened. Sort of.

Cleanse the pallette

I finished drafting my writing about Evangelical hermeneutic activity, something I have been working on for a month. A month of writing got me about 4,000 words, which is really not a good pace as I go forward, but I suppose it’s a start. It’s pretty dense though, something I needed to get better at in the early stages of drafting. So we’ll see how it is taken by my supervisors. But finishing it feels good, and now, on to the Langauge@Internet article. I have a self-imposed deadline November 31st for that one.

Mei, in one of her less cute, more annoying moments, pulled Yoko’s glasses off her face on Friday, resulting in a broken left ‘arm’ on the glasses. I know the word ‘arm’ now because I have been spending the last five days trying to solve this problem. The first solution was getting them replaced at the store where I went to ask about the warranty, but we were about four months too late. Cost of new frames £124 (these were the expensive side of the buy one get one free deal). The second, and most obvious (and obviously wrong) solution, involves gluing them. Every time I have ever had broken glasses, I think I can glue them. Well, I can’t, and here’s why: there’s so damn small and there is never any surface area. I had them glued well a couple of times, but they snapped both times after a marginal amount of use. I also almost ruined the lens when I squeezed the glue, shooting out globs in front of and behind the lens, but miraculously missing them. went online and e-mailed everyone I could find selling these frames (like eight different dealers) and just got an e-mail saying that one could help me out for £24.95. Not as good as gluing them, but hey, I’ll take it.

And speaking of broken earthly goods, I was sitting in Starbucks on Friday when I got an e-mail from Yoko saying that the car remote key was dead and could I pick one up on the way home. She described the car as not having any power and I thought, that damn key and it’s damn immobiliser. Once the electronics in the key don’t work, everything fails. So I got the battery and when I replaced it on Saturday morning, I still got nothing. The car was completely dead. I called out landlord and he came over with a jumper box and when he put it on the battery all the doors unlocked and the radio came on, but the car wouldn’t start still. A new car battery, I thought, that’s no problem. To be expected. What are those like £20? No, it was £75. And those things are heavy as hell. I had to walk a mile with it. Anyway, problem solved, car running, money out like water.

This, of course, happened in a context: a context of family life. Although I thought we had avoided the ‘morning sickness’ this time around, we have not. Yoko was out of the game on Saturday, leaving me to do my typical shitty job of taking care of the house and getting annoyed with the kids. I do my best, but I’m so impatient with them and frustrated that I am losing my weekends again for the next… three years? I had tried to forget about this when we were making the decision to have Baby #3 because, to be honest, I don’t think I am strong enough to handle it and there are times, especially with the pressures of work and school, that I am not sure I’ll make it. I’m not sure I’ll make it. My dad, I was recalling as I carried the battery up the hill to the house, never showed much sign of weakness , but I know now that it probably wasn’t the case that he had it altogether. I wonder if my kids think I have it altogether…

It also meant that on Saturday morning I couldn’t run or spend anytime on the rowing machine. The whole day was full of fidgeting. Finally, after dinner, I got to exercise and felt much better. My body sort of expects it now, I think, and wonders where it is when it’s gone. This is the first November I have been healthy. When I was dating Yoko, I did diet and exercise in January, but other than that, I have mostly spent the winters hibernating. If I get to March and don’t feel like I have to drop 5-10 kgs, I’ll be very, very happy.

Finally, on Sunday we went to a Japanese friend of Yoko’s house for afternoon tea with a bunch of friends of Yoko’s friend (and some of Yoko’s friends too). I was happy to be back into the Japanese environment again. It takes me about 20 minutes and my Japanese is firing on all cylinders: I can communicate about anything that comes up without any problem. I can understand, I explained, about 90% of the words that everyone is using, but the context and the grammar makes it possible to hide that I don’t know 10% of the words. You stop thinking and you start speaking. The people were all very nice and we had a good time.

But it’s Monday now. Already Monday afternoon. Article proofing then handouts for class on Friday. Nothing: piece of cake.

13 November 2010

Mei watching Travis Barker

Mei loves drums and people without shirts on. Here she is watching Travis Barker's remix of Flo Rida's 'Low'.

Here's the video she's watching:

12 November 2010

4 months

I have been keeping up my healthy lifestyle for 4 months now and have been well within my goal weight range since the beginning of September. We'll see how long I am able to keep this up. One week at a time, I suppose.

11 November 2010

Renaming an article

You know you've done a lot of revising when you have to retitle the article. Now:
Cops, popes, and garbage collectors: Metaphor and antagonism in an atheist/Christian YouTube video thread

Fighting the Rain

I am in London today, going to a Linguistic Ethnography thing at Birbeck College. I’m looking forward to getting away from writing for a half a day, with an excuse none-the-less. This week has been cut pretty short: Tuesday I had Yoko’s doctor appointment and today and tomorrow, I am in London. Still, in the midst of the busyness, I was able to get a great deal of writing done around the edges. The Language@Internet article is now ‘done’, but I have to go back and make sure that it is cohesive and what I took out and added in haven’t left any holes. It took a good 15 hours though of reading and rewriting. I think the finished project is something I can actually be proud of though. We’ll see what the editor has to say.

I also have some writing that I am doing for my supervisors, the same bit on the Evangelical hermeneutic activity that I have been talking about for the last month. It’s now completely drafted and I just have to proof it and send it to them. I am cautiously optimistic about it.

Two good things have happened as I have been busy this week.

First, I’m not nearly as worried as I was the last couple of weeks about my work situation in the future. Not sure why I was so concerned about it or why I am less concerned today, but I am. I am actually feeling optimistic about staying here, thinking that something may work out. To be clear, though, nothing has changed: just my outlook. My cubicle-mate from China just had a job interview for her dream job at the University of Reading. I’m hoping it went well, but it has me excited for her. I talked with a professor at the OU who has spent some time teaching in Japan. We talked about going and coming back. Point number one, whatever I do, is keeping my research profile up. As I am working on this article and feeling a bit more confident, I am less worried about being able to do this independent of my supervisors.

Second, I am in London today and going to a seminar, two of my favourite things in the world. I especially like being here when I don’t have to get any work done. I took an earlier train and have camped out in Starbucks (75p! for the filter coffee! Every time!) and also brought out my old EEEPC that I forget about from time to time, but is really quite nice. It’s faster than my laptop and now that I am doing lots of stuff on Google docs, it doesn’t matter that it has almost no hard disk. I’m thinking about making the leap to open source software for my thesis: Google docs and Zotero instead of Word and EndNote. Not sure I am going to be able to, but it excites me, especially if I can use this smaller computer instead. I was talking to my famed older brother about getting an iPad and although that would be nice, this EEEPC is actually able to do whatever I would use the iPad for. At least at this point in my life, where I am procreating like a rabbit and have no money, I think I need to focus on using the resources I already have instead of trying to get new ones. Now, if only Google docs would work offline.

I should say that, so far, number three has been much easier than number two. Well, from what I can tell. Yoko is holding up remarkably well. With Naomi, at this point, she was hardly able to move. I’m not sure if it’s that she feels much better or is just really working hard to make it easier for all of us, but it’s been good so far. I will write more about comparing these experiences one of these days. Yoko, among her many, many good qualities, is remarkably resilient. Amazing, really: I am quite lucky.

09 November 2010

Online teaching tools and resources

Among the many hats I wear, one is part-time, adjunct lecturer. I teach two classes in the Autumn at Middlesex University in London: one called Empirical Investigations of Language and one called Research Methods for Language Teachers. Part of the problem of being an adjunct, part-time lecturer is having to teach without access to your own office on campus and, in my case, having to use two university libraries (the one at Middlesex and my home library at the OU). Things get mixed up all the time, especially in terms of the computer. I can take my laptop to Middlesex, but as I don't have it set up to access their network, I can't print anything out, so I have to use one of the Middlesex computers anyway. They also don't have Wifi, so I had to do work on one computer, remove the LAN cable and work on the other one. Last year I was lugging my laptop in and using a flash disk to shuttle between the two. It was a mess. I would also upload handouts to OasisPlus (which is the Middlesex name for WebCT), but every time I made a change, I had to re-upload the files. I was also e-mailing students about class activities, but that never worked properly because I could never ensure that people actually checked their e-mail.

This year, I am solving the problems in a new way, sans my laptop and using only online tools that I can access anywhere:
Google docs. Although not a great interface and not easy to work on, it does allow continues web publishing and provided you are okay working within the limits of the document, it works well. When you can make changes, the document is automatically published back to the web, saving the hassle of uploading it again. I can also tweak the module guide and other documents without having to print everything out.
Wordpress blogs. I keep blogs for both classes (ELT4123 and ELT4101), posting all the handouts and everything from the class. As I am teaching Research Methods for the second time, I kept all the posts from last year (made them drafts) and now I can go back through them and repost the relevant ones. This saves a ton a time and allows me to offer content to the students throughout the week, not just when we meet. I do a lot of scheduling of blog posts as I tend to be really interested in doing it at on one day at one particular time and then forget about it when I start thinking about my thesis. If I can schedule five or six posts in a sitting, the students can have new content for a couple of weeks and I only have to put in 10 minutes of work. Also, as all the links to documents go back to Google docs, I can change the document without worrying about the link. I also never e-mail my students anymore. I tell them the content is on the blog and they are required to check it at least once a week. No more 'I didn't get the e-mail' excuses, as it is now their responsibility to check the blog.
×Dropbox. I still use Dropbox for my own work, but it is less helpful when I'm working on a computer that's not mine as it requires that you download the program and then allows that computer access to all your files in the dropbox folder. I like the public link feature for Word documents and use that when I have something stable that I'm not changing and is too complex for Google docs, but as you can only make those changes on computers that have Dropbox, it's not especially helpful in my current situation.
Facebook. Three of my five students use Facebook regularly, so I set up a group for them. I have my privacy features set so that they can't see any information about me beyond my picture and name, and I encouraged them to do the same for me (although no one has so far). I do not add any new or different content to the Facebook group, but I do try to post the blog entries there and, more importantly, deadlines for assignments. I still prefer the blog for adding real content (especially as I can reuse it over the years), but this is a good way to deliver the blog content to the students.
UPDATED: I acutally think Firefox portable might be the solution to this problem. I am going to use it this week and let you know.
Xmarks and Firefox. I installed Firefox on the two computers I tend to use at Middlesex and downloaded my bookmarks using Xmarks. This makes a big difference in the ease and quickness I can access things when I am using another computer. I have left the links on the computers, as I believe they are limited to my login and password on those computers, although even if someone did access them, there is really no issue as the computer doesn't save your password or login names and all my bookmarks are pretty boring. It makes accessing all the materials for class so much easier.
So far I have been successful in leaving my laptop at home, which makes the mile walk from the train to campus much more pleasurable. In the 18 months I've been at Middlesex, I have also not had any problems with the Internet being down when I go to the school, although if that were to happen, I still have my textbooks to teach from and I could have the students look at the handouts after class, as they would still be online.
Happy technology using everyone!

07 November 2010

Forthcoming (?)

My article ‘Cops, popes, and garbage collectors: Real-world occupations as metaphors for online behaviour in an Atheist/Christian YouTube thread’ ’Cops, popes, and garbage collectors: Metaphor and antagonism in an atheist/Christian YouTube video thread’ has come back for revisions a third time. Although it wasn’t stated explicitly, it seems to have been just on the edge of being accepted, pending the changes. They are asking me to do things like remove ‘Author, 2010′ and replace with my own name and also include a biography and acknowledgments. There were about 85 comments on the text, so there is still some work to do, but I would say that 75% of them are fixable with no thought (change a word) and the other 25% require a very thin bit of rewriting. Adding some information about other articles I cite, add a couple more references: nothing major, but enough to keep it from being accepted this time.

I’ll be honest: I looked at the comments the first time of Friday night and was pretty demoralised. I opened them a second time yesterday and felt the same way. Finally, the third time I felt like the task is surmountable: I want to get this done within the month and be done with it. It has already taken probably a month of my time this year. I’m also done with this dataset. Yes, yes, the pope of YouTube, very quaint. Now what.

But it will be a nice publication: edited by the top scholar in the field of CMC. Very well-recognised journal, although online and not ISI, unfortunately. It doesn’t matter at this point; having the citation is the most important thing. I will need, however, if I am going to apply to Japanese jobs in particular, have to get some paper journals. Hopefully the Fieldwork in Religion article will go through. We’ll see. Anyway, another two days of working on this when I should be working on my literature review.

1 July 2011

The baby is due on the first of July next year.

Such an interesting set of questions they ask at the surgery you when you announce that you think you are pregnant: Is this happy news? the GP asked my wife. Yoko answered, Yes! and I thought, Well, it’s complicated, as my second daughter tried to open a cabinet in the office and rummage through some medical supplies. I was thinking about how I was using the word ‘problematize’ (with a ‘z’: this is an American publication) in my article. Lange problematizes notions of public and private space online.

The GP asked about a Down’s Syndrome test, if we wanted it sooner or if we were willing to wait, and I said piously, It doesn’t make any difference to us, and suddenly felt guilty about saying it the way I had. Folic acid, midwife appointments, ultrasounds. The GP said the baby was due the first week in July, but as we left, I felt like I needed a date. Sorry, she said, the first of July. The first of July, I said. Put it in the diary. You would probably prefer the fourth, the GP said, as a joke. No, no, I said, the first is fine.

Eight and a half months: a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy it: it is likely the last time you will do this. I’ll be 29 on July 1st.

The first of July 2011. Every two years for six years. Three postgraduate degrees, three children. Yes, I said, when she commented that we probably ‘knew the drill’ at this point: yes. Yes, we do.

05 November 2010

A PhD, a book, and a class

I love a lot of things: coffee, fruit and fibre cereal, teaching, reading, writing, and thinking. If I judge a day by how many of those things I enjoy, today would be a perfect day. It is a dreary day in London, the way I’m sure people imagine it. I have finished one class and have one class to go, but unlike last year, I don’t feel like it is something to get through. I am genuinely enjoying it this year. The students are fantastic: bright and helpful. The syllabuses in both classes have come together after a little bit of shakiness. I know what I am going to test on, so I have confidence that I am preparing the students well. It is going very well.

My trips to London on Friday have also, so far, been very good too. I’m teaching an hour later than I was last year, providing me with an hour (if I choose) to hang out near Euston on the way up. I have been spending this time in a Starbucks across from the British Library. I recently acquired a Starbucks card that allows me to get a tall cup of filter coffee (with free shots) for £1. If I bring my own tumbler, it’s also 25p cheaper, and there is a free refill. So today, I sat there, drank two cups of coffee (net value £3.70) and enjoyed free wifi, all for 75p. Perfect for a student like myself. I was ecstatic. I have been using this card all the time. Starbucks red has appeared, however, meaning that I am now tempted to drink high-calorie, sweet lattes which are not 75p. Once in a while, I suppose.

I don’t mean to be a Starbucks shill. I’m not. I’m sticking it to the man, really. Taking advantage of their kindness to me.

As I sat in Starbucks today, I was working on the bit of writing I’m doing for my supervisors, the first part of my literature review. It’s coming together nicely, and after writing three paragraphs by hand, I only have about two more to fill in and I can send it off. I can see the placement of the section in a larger literature review, and I began work on a bit of the Introduction today. Soon, I will have a file on my computer called ‘thesis chapters’ and as I was riding up to Middlesex today, it occurred to me: I am writing a book. It feels like I am writing a book. Bit by bit, this thing will come together and in a year and half, I will have a book.

Another postdoc came across my metaphorical desk this week, one that has an acceptance rate of 6/200 (3%!), and one that, as I looked at it, I felt like I might have a shot at; that is to say, I could hear a narrative where they might choose me. It’s an American Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and although I am not really an American Studies person, they confirmed that my research would be considered. I was looking at the current scholars and it was like, Yale, Stanford, Yale, book published, associate professor: very impressive scholars. But there were like two people of six that I thought, okay, I’m not that different from this person. The thing about US PhDs is that they drag on forever so the students come out with tons of experience and publications. Their supervisors publish with them and bring them in on their projects. My impoverished CV looks very thin next to them, but it’s all mine. So although this is not Stanford, and I have not written a book yet, I think if there is some understanding of the British system, coupled with the publications I do (will) have, my unique subject area, and my (eh-hem) charisma, perhaps… perhaps I could get into the last round of voting. I had a bit of an afterthought though: the kids, the wife, dragging everyone to a new… but it was fleeting, and I thought, the future will hold whatever it holds and if we go to Australia for a year or ten, we go to Australia. It will be what it will be.

Again, though, it’s very, very good to be looking at these things now, to know what’s out there and what I can potentially compete for. Doing this all while writing up would be a bit harrowing, I imagine.

Lastly, I haven’t written about my weight in a while, much to everyone’s relief, I imagine. I should just say that it is plugging along. It’s pretty boring after a while actually. I still weigh myself every day and will continue till the end of the year I imagine, but it’s been staying pretty steady. I had to drop maybe 1kg since coming back from Spain, but that hasn’t been much work. I’m practically back to where I was this time last month which is the goal. At some point, as long as I stay under 76kgs, there will be nothing to report. Just keep on keeping on.

04 November 2010

Explaining myself

It’s been a hectic week, therefore, I have not blogged. Lots of writing and reading, but in a new sort of productive way. I have never written and read like I did this week. So efficient. My document, a bit of writing about Evangelical hermeneutics that will be a part of my literature review, was open on my computer and I was moving seamlessly between the document and my reading. I quoted Foucault without effort and stitched in a paragraph about Bakhtin and voice as though I knew something about it. Yesterday, I had a supervision meeting were I talked through the main points of the writing and felt like I was making compelling, nuanced critiques of other work and that my supervisors were pleased with the progress I had made. Now, to return to the books and finish it up: another 4,000 of the thesis likely done. 4,000 + 3,500= 7,500 words, or 7.5% of the thesis.

I went back to the writing I had done earlier this summer to see if I might be able to cull some words to help me in this text. It seemed so thin to me suddenly, like I had only done a very surface-level analysis. At the time, I felt like I was reaching so deep. Deepness, I suppose, is also relative.

I had some friends from Romania here on Monday and Tuesday, missionaries I had met while I was an Evangelical myself some eight years ago now. We have kept in touch all these years, and they came and stayed with us for two days. Unfortunately, I was writing, something I can’t seem to stop when it starts, but we managed a couple of good conversations, a careful dance I’m getting better at–telling the truth about what I believe in a non-oppositional manner. My belief need not be seen as oppositional to your belief, a stance they both hold as well, so we had very useful conversations. What it made clear to me, more than anything, was how substantively different I am now from when I was 20, when I saw the world through the eyes of faith. It also reminded me that I prefer my current epistemological position, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Of course we look at who we are now as the ideal: we know so much more than we did.

I saw a job posting that was perfect for me (near Nagoya where Yoko is from), but started in the Spring of 2011. As is my custom when these things come up, I e-mailed the contact anyway to check on the possibility of the job being delayed or a similar one coming up in the future. I also just want to advertise myself. Anyway, I worked for about an hour on this e-mail, carefully wording everything, but the response I received made clear that my efforts were more-or-less a waste: all that had been communicated was that I was interested in the job. They did want me to apply, but I sent another careful e-mail saying that I didn’t think I could, but thank you and please let me know if the position goes unfilled.

The real Japan versus how I idealise my time there. A friend reminded me that the advertised position (‘Associate Professor in American Studies’ in this case) and what you end up doing could be quite different. Still, the pay is accurate, as are the teaching hours, so it is not a complete mirage. Remembering the whole experience, however, is something I would serve me well.

When I’m writing, when my research is successful, I feel less of the pressure to think about the future. The writing is all I need. Unfortunately, the muse is absent more than present and will be gone again by next week when I finish drafting this bit and move onto the less satisfying work of coding data.

Finally, the pregnancy is going so much smoother this time. At this point the last two times, Yoko was sleeping for several hours during the day and sick most of the time. Maybe that’s to come, but it could be, my mother tells me, a sign that the baby is a boy, as there is something chemically that makes a boy easier to carry than a girl. Or it could mean nothing: L tells me of a friend for whom this was the opposite. Well, I say, find meaning where you can.

01 November 2010

The Reasoned Life

The baby gestates along without so much as a peep, things remaining quiet at the Pihlaja house. We decided to tell Naomi about the baby over lunch on Sunday. At first she stared at us without any comprehension and I thought, well, it’s probably too soon for her to understand. But when Yoko explained it as we are going to have another baby like Mei, suddenly Naomi started laughing hysterically. I don’t think she understands. In fact, I’m sure of it: every other day for the last couple of months she’s said that she has a baby in her stomache. Perhaps as Yoko starts to grow…

Although last week I wrote about the unreasonable nature of our decision to have a baby, I should probably concede that, like everything I do, there is more calculation involved than I would like to admit. July 2011, in terms of the next two to three years of our lives, is a pretty good slot for baby having. I will not be crazy with writing up yet and as I have more-or-less ruled out a post-doc application, I won’t have much hanging over me. Moreover, it will be summer break at Middlesex, so I won’t have to teach, and if we plan on leaving the country in 2012, we will probably not get a visa for the baby saving us £450. This will mean, unfortunately, that the baby cannot leave the country until we move or get work visas, but I will still have my passport to travel for job interviews if need be.

In larger, life-planning terms, it’s probably better for Yoko to have the baby sooner rather than later as waiting could mean that we get to a point where it is more difficult to get pregnant and/or the risks of having a baby are higher. Plus, having all the kids around the same time means that although we will have a rough time when they are all small, it will be condensed, and by the time I’m 35 the kids will be 10, 8, and 6. Sure, the cost of having a baby is high especially as a student, but realistically, we are comfortable enough. We’ll still be enjoying the benefits of the NHS in the summer and will have all the things we need for baby care and (if the baby is a girl) all the clothes too. Financial capital, at least at this point, will be a minor issue: that issue will come later, but my earning potential will increase with it.

In terms of my mental health capital (how far can we take this, Bourdieu?), making the decision allows me a bit of intellectual freedom as I don’t have to spend any mental energy on worrying about the potential or non-potential of having another baby every month. The decision is made–now I just have to do the work. Granted, this is a lot of work, but my mind enjoys the boundaries of knowing at least one thing in my life is settled for a couple of years. There is so much that is unsettled.

There is so much that is unsettled… yes, that is indeed true. I have spent two months thinking about what I want to do with the next step of my life. Early, I concede, too early to think about in practical terms, but the process of thinking about it, looking at jobs and imagining myself and our family in a different environment is actually a very useful exercise. It helps me think about what it is I want. Of course, I can’t imagine it perfectly and what I want and what I can have are two very different things. Still, this ship will have to turn at some point. If we are going to Japan, that process needs to start now. If nothing works out and the next step will come out of the blue (which I suspect), then I can accept that. Possibilities abound, I need to enjoy it rather than fearing it.

30 October 2010


November comes the day after tomorrow, so we squeezed the last bit of life out of autumn today.

5p coin takes a beating

If you were ever curious what a 5p coin looks like after it has travelled through the digestive system of a one and a half year old, you have come to the right place.

29 October 2010

What love's got to do with it

Love is a word used to describe a complex system of feelings and actions. But what is love?

Love is not something you can operationalise, so I avoid using it when I want to be precise. I love my wife, I say I love my wife, but I'm not bothered by the exact specific meaning of it. No citation needed here--I'd cite Rick Jackson if I needed to. The constituent parts of my love for her and her love for me come up at times, and I recognise them when I can as data points in some larger system that I have no understanding of.

When my father was here in the summer, we (Yoko, the girls, my dad, and I) were walking through the supermarket. I was talking to my dad about meat, specifically how we as a species probably eat too much and how meat farming is adding to global warming. These are the sort of soft liberal issues I bring up so as to ease the acceptance of my political (and eventually spiritual) beliefs with people I know oppose them. Meat is not overtly political or spiritual, and the thought process is clearly explainable. It's probably not helping anything, but what the hell, I can try, right?

Anyway, as I was having this conversation, Yoko says to me in Japanese, 'I think I'm pregnant.' This came out of the blue. Certainly not, I thought. I mean... no, no, certainly not, right? Certainly not. My meat conversation with my dad ended immediately and I eventually said to him, sorry, Yoko just told me she thinks she's pregnant, which is not something that's really fair to say to your dad in the supermarket when you're shopping for meat.

I remember that day was very bright: lots of sun, no clouds.

Well, Yoko wasn't pregnant, but it got a series of conversations rolling. The first being that I didn't want to, again, have a child by surprise. Also, come to think of it, did we really want to have another kid. Two kids makes sense in a lot of ways, especially if you're trying to be mobile in the way that I want to be. Four is also divisible by two, something that five is not. I come from a family of five: it's fine, but four, I thought. Four is enough.

This was not how Yoko saw it: she had always envisioned a family of five. The three kids able to support each other at different times, a more complex set of relationships to help them mature and grow together. It was, she conceded, her dream, not something that could be argued, with the positives outweighing the negatives. It was simply and quietly what she always had and probably always would want.

I opposed this on my rational grounds, hoping that it would go away. But over the course of a couple of months it was becoming clear that this thing, these three kids, was not an issue that was going to go away, and though I might be able to eventually win the argument, it would be at a cost. When the conversation came up again for the third or fourth time, it was clear: yielding was my responsibility and yielding would, in terms of relationship capital, be significant. More than anything that could ever be said, a million 'I love yous'.

So, now, a speck of baby floats inside Yoko and one day that speck may grow up and read how they came about. So I have this to say to you, tiny speck of baby: You are special. Your sisters are special too, but you are particularly special because you are the instantiation of my love for your mother. You are the choice of love: of saying yes instead of no and of faith in the strength and longevity of our family, gathered up and bound by love.

2011 will be a big year, as was 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006 before it. I suppose my penchant for stress can't be sated. Oh well: what is life if not for living. July 2011, we start again.

26 October 2010

The value of a PhD (or, The value of a PhD in Japan)

Well, as my thoughts flitter around about potentials and I look at job postings in Japan, some things become clear very quickly, if you can read the air appropriately:

1. A PhD, though not essential, puts you at the top of the list. You will be considered first.
2. Japanese ability is important.
3. Experience is essential.
4. Research abilities and publications are important.
5. Teaching is important.

Looking at these postings, it’s clear that at this point, pulling a good job, even potentially tenured at a small university, is quite possible. And, given 5 or 6 more years working, someone like me would be in a very good place to get tenure at a good university, provided I keep on the path that I am. This doesn’t say much about me except that the skills I have cultivated make me a very good candidate for a job at a university in Japan, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me as that was my goal for about five years. in 2012, I would have the key skills at the level they are needed: particularly, and uniquely, Japanese ability AND a PhD.

The PhD’d foreigner in Japan is still rare and will probably continue to be rare. Most teachers come to Japan as younger folk (22 or 23) and initially don’t do much professional development. You might marry a Japanese and realise, in your late twenties, early thirties, that you need more education to stay gainfully employed. So you get an MA, and that usually takes maybe 3 or 4 years. It also takes a lot of time, energy, and money, and by the time you finish, you are heavy in experience and probably have a good job near where you want to settle, so the PhD and the 5 or 6 years more of part-time study it requires, along with the financial cost and lack of immediate pay-off, is unappealing. You are unlikely to move anyway.

The workload of a PhD may change in coming years as some schools are looking into modular PhDs which don’t require a thesis, but I doubt that those will be taken as seriously in Japan. The Japanese universities, I suspect, will still want you to prove that you have spent some time on campus (if not completely on campus) and have a thesis that you published or published out of. Plus, although easier than a non-modular (I won’t say ‘real’) PhD, they will cost the same and still be a hell of a lot of trouble to complete, not really adding to their appeal.

Although foreigners with PhDs might try to go to Japan, the problem with them is that they lack any Japanese experience and can’t speak the language. They are well-qualified, but in the wrong ways.

So perhaps I should try to fit into the puzzle that I fit into.

25 October 2010

Some sort of future

You’ll remember a post that I made in September, breathlessly announcing that I had decided to apply for an ESRC post-doc at King’s College. I was focused, excited. I e-mailed everyone. Yes, this is what I wanted.

Well, I soon found out that the acceptance rates of these things were next to nothing. Mathematically zero. And although I have a lot of confidence in myself, when you have to round up to get to .3%, I start to get worried. No matter, I thought, I would still apply and plan on working some year or two year contract teaching, with the expectation that eventually, something would come together, if I worked hard enough.

This last week, the government announced that it was cutting the budget pretty seriously, leaving some 500,000 public sector workers unemployed. The universities are now going to be allowed to charge higher tuition and in exchange, the government is essentially defunding higher education. Who knows what is going to happen for real, but I can say this: without a miracle, the 2012-2013 grant funding is going to be non-existent and every department, terrified that they will be deemed not profitable and axed, is unlikely to hire anyone new. Hopefully in three to five years, the bad blood will be out, but that’s unlikely with such a huge overhaul to the system.

Add to this the immigration fears that have the government capping non-EU immigrants. I thought this only applied to people coming into the country and not people renewing, but I met an American yesterday who was looking like he wasn’t going to get renewed based on the new rules. Doesn’t matter that his company wants him to stay: they can only employ so many foreigners. So he has to move on. Thank you, (don’t) come again.

So I have a couple of choices. Basically I can say, well, there will have to be people hired and I might get lucky and they’ll choose a foreigner (me) over a qualified English person. The problem with this is even if they want to hire me, whether or not I’ll be able to get a visa will be a different story. And the chance of there being a job is quite unlikely. Option two is start looking elsewhere in Europe, which will be my second choice, but I am wary to make a short-term commitment if learning another language is involved, as Yoko and the kids will require more adaptation than me. Certainly a possibility, but, again, I haven’t been seeing a lot of opportunities, owing to the fact, I suppose, that I don’t speak another European language and can’t search universities that way.

That leaves the US and Japan. Yesterday, I came downstairs and Yoko was watching a Japanese TV show on YouTube and laughing. It was one of the Japanese variety shows--distinctly Japanese and hard to explain. As I watched her watch it, I had a sense of... peace. Peace is the best way to describe it. Security and peace, but also a sense that I did not have to do anything. I feel like I am always doing something in the UK, always trying to get something done that must be done in English or plan to take the family somewhere that they can't go themselves because the streets are confusing or it requires too much English. Japan would be different. I could leave the house on a Saturday: go ride my bike and come back and Yoko and the could be somewhere else by themselves. No help with maps, no need to look it up on the Internet for them. That would bring me a great deal of satisfaction: I could go to the coffee shop and read without any guilt hanging over me.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Well, that’s not right: the answer is to not worry about it and focus on my work and loving my wife and family. But I’m always looking for the exits.

24 October 2010

Sneaky bastards

I'm finished. Nothing can be done. Luckily I have light enough hair anyway, you can't notice it. But. There you are.

22 October 2010

Back at it

I'm on the underground on my way to work and listening to music or reading can be quite difficult. I am prepared for my classes which is good news for me today as I am still feeling ill and a bit lethargic. Another post about the trip, this one more introspective.

21 October 2010


A long time ago, in May, when I made plans for this trip, I was intrigued by the possibility of us going to Morocco for the day. I heard this was something you can do and looking at the map, it seems like it's close enough. Yoko and I had both always wanted to go to Africa, even if it was only sticking our metaphorical toe in. Unfortunately, the ferry tickets I'd seen from Màlaga to Morocco were expensive, especially if you included getting to the ferry, getting around wherever we arrived--and it was going to be only 4 hours for a whole day of travelling. So I gave up the idea and thought, well, when we get to Torremolinos, we can see what's available there.

As you might guess, a lot of people have the same idea and everywhere there are signs for trips to Tanger for under (where the hell is the euro sign on this keyboard) 59. So I enquired early on Monday morning at one establishment and when the woman assured me that we would be picked up at the hotel and it would take under two hours, I thought, yes, exactly, perfect. And we booked it. €173. (The html code for € is &euro, I just learned.)

We woke up on Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn and ate the early breakfast we ordered, and though I still wasn't feeling 100%, it was better than the day before. At 7:15, the bus rolled up and a very energetic, multi-lingual woman helped us on and we had a quiet trip in the dark for the first thirty minutes or so, slowly stopping to pick people up and watching the sun come up over the sea. Well, 30 minutes stretched into an hour and an hour stretched into an hour and half of us driving on the coast. We were also only stopping to pick people up, not use the restroom, and an emergency was growing with the wife. Luckily, it wasn't Naomi because she would have not been able to make it, but when we asked about using the toilet, the otherwise perfect tour guide became sort of like a nazi: Why do you need to stop? We're late! 'Yes,' I said, 'I realise this, but we've been on the bus for almost three hours now: that's a long time.' A stop was negotiated, the 'next' stop or so I thought. When we stopped again, Yoko left the bus and ran into an office building, but it became pretty clear that this was not what was supposed to happen, and the rest of the passengers, many of whom were also suffering, tried to get up, but were told to sit down. Anyway, Yoko was back straightaway, and then the bus stopped at a petrol station within five minutes, when about half of the bus got up to pee, despite the begging of the tour guide that only those who 'really needed it' should go. How do you measure 'really needing to go to the bathroom' on a gradable scale in which a bus of international tourists would have any idea what the threshold of leaving the bus should or shouldn't be?

With all that nastiness behind us, we came up past Gibraltar which I was pretty happy to see and then to Tarifa, where we would take the ferry across. I saw that the cost of the ferry for an adult was €36 return and was growing more curious: we had travelled by bus for three and half hours. We were getting the ticket and when we arrived in Tanger, we were going to take a bus around the city with a guide, have a walking tour, and lunch, all-inclusive. But anyway, we took the ferry across, which was only 35 minutes, and soon we were on the bus driving through Tanger.
I haven't said this yet, but it's obvious: yes, taking a bus trip to Morocco is against every DIY, indie bone in my body. I'm sorry. I confess it. But hear me out: We couldn't have gone with the kids in another situation. Far too volatile in some senses. Although I would have happily gone alone just the four of us, I would have spent the whole time worrying about getting back on the boat.

Okay, that said, the tour guide (a new one now, on the Moroccan side) was telling us about how wonderful Morocco was: a whole speech about who though they were Islamic and religious, they were peaceful freedom-loving people. And women can wear whatever they please now. Very free.
Anyway, as we took the winding road up the hills, I was realising that Tanger was quite big actually and quite condensed, built on very steep hills coming up off of the port. We arrive, inexplicably, at a dirt lay-by at the side of the road where we were met by an army of men selling trinkets and men selling camel rides. Naomi was scared of the camels and Mei too, but Yoko and Mei rode around once and within five minutes, we were back on the bus.

The next stop was the top of the walking tour and they told us repeatedly not to leave anything on the bus. When we got off the bus, there were about three more guides, helping people to go the right way and unfolding our stroller. Oh no, I thought, this is not the place to have a stroller... but as this was a guided tour with (I have yet to mention) an army of people over 60 (there were some Spanish kids in their preteens, but they were by far the youngest next to Naomi and Mei), the path was very, very well chosen. We made our way through a small neighborhood, with the guides carefully watching to make sure that no one wandered off.

We had lunch at a restaurant where another tour group was eating: beer, cous-cous and chicken with a simple soup, and some great honey biscuits and tea at the end. All very nice, and up off the street, so it felt a bit like floating above everything. There was live music which Mei really got into and quickly became very popular among the rest of the restaurant goers.
Next we were taken to the 'market' and this was the point that I realised why this trip was only €63 a person. The cultural talk we were getting about traditional rug-making in Morocco was a very thinly-veiled sales pitch to buy the rugs and as we shopped in the 'market', things were about three times more expensive than the prices being shouted at us as we walked briskly through the streets earlier. And although you could bargain (the leather bag I looked at just briefly went from €180 to €50 based, from what I could tell, on my lack of interest ), things didn't come down that much.
The next stop was a traditional pharmacy with another sales pitch by a very energetic young man, whose jokes I laughed at loudly. Again, all over-priced. When we left, however, we were in the heart of a series of very winding, very narrow streets lined with stores, and as we made a couple of turns, I thought that if it would be very, very easy to get lost, and you could very, very quickly get into a lot of trouble, if you went the wrong way. The guides did a very good job of keeping the metaphorical lid on everything, but there was clearly a lid.

We were hustled away, back onto the boat around 5 and as I went to the bathroom, I walked past a group of men praying, next to a slot machine with a picture of a bikini'd woman (breasts tucked in, thankfully). This is very disparate, I thought: can these two things really do business together? Costa del Sol on one side, burning with debauchery, gluttony, and capitalism. On the other, the free, moderate Muslim women wear the hijab and seem to be outnumbered on the street 30 to 1 by men. Of course, the question is yes. Yes, they can. They are. And, for what it's worth, I would much, much prefer to go back to Tanger or Marrakarech than Torremolinos. One is understandable in a moment, the other has miles and miles of narrow, dark, fascinating places without steak and chips. Perhaps in my next life.