31 March 2010

At the British Library

Today has so far involved getting up, running for 7 km, going to the optometrist, coming to London, and having a salad at a McDonalds. Now, I will write about metaphor for five or six hours and then go to a party with the other teachers from Middlesex to get slightly 'knackered' on their 'dime' and try to then walk up Tottenham Court Road back to Euston so I can sleep in my own bed.

My trip to the optometrist was supposed to involve me getting two pairs of glass for just under £90 (including the eye exam), but ended up costing me £156 and some change, after I got talked into getting better lenses.  I'm feeling slightly guilty about this, but I'm not sure why as glasses are something I need anyway and getting the better lenses doesn't really qualify for a reckless waste of money on non-essentials. Still, I thought about it for far too long as I dozed off on the train.

I talked to the doctor who checked my eyes about whether or not people struggle making choices (is one better than two? Is two better than three?) and whether or not the way the test was set up could affect how you make your choice. I imagine it could be very stressful for people who have trouble making choices. Me, not so much: Two, two, two, one, one, two, and I'm done.

I was looking at my glasses with the woman who was helping me choose and two of the other employees came up and they said, 'Sorry to bother you, but we wanted to know if you were American.' Yes, I said, how did you know? 'Well, we saw your boots and we suspected that you were.' I explained that I had got them in Oxford, but this did not work — they were quite proud of themselves for spotting me and they pointed at the belt buckle, too. One of them, it turned out, was from the States and the other was from Africa, so we had a good discussion about life in the UK, and they upsold me on the lenses: 'They'll look much better; you'll be much happier with them,' they assured me.  Anyway, at the end of getting all the paperwork done, the woman who had some authority in the store — Joy from South Africa — gave me about £13 off on my eye test. This coupled with the two litre bottle of Coke that I got from the Kebab guy last week after an interesting conversation about Turkey and Japa), I feel like I have uncovered a new kind of soft negotiating, something my sister would certainly be proud of.

Now, at the British Library, I really need to get some work done.  I had a very good meeting with my supervisors yesterday, and they pointed me in the right metaphorical direction. Now, all I need to do is write like the wind. And get back to revising my Language@Internet article, also like the wind. As I said before, the people here are my people. I think I just saw the glasses I bought walk by.

30 March 2010


A quick note for my wife: 心配しないで。テーブルを洗った。

Okay, now that my wife's mind is at ease, I give you:
Yes, for £22.94, I got my boots re-so(u)led. This was a lot, I thought, especially since I've only had the boots for like 6 months. But they were wearing down and the heel clips I had gotten in the States fell off. So I had the whole thing re-done in rubber, with steel clips in the heels. The result? Boots that are like 95% more durable, I think. I was really happy with how they came out. Once they wear a little bit, they will be perfect. Perfect!

I was trying to describe to my wife how the boots make me feel, but I wasn't getting it. I said they made me feel powerful, but that's only part of it. I love them. Big time.

Another thing that makes me feel powerful is when a supervision meeting goes well, like it did today. But all I need to do to feel weak again is think about editing my paper for Language@Internet. And it's gone.

29 March 2010

I will save your life

Initially, I didn’t think much of the new Deftones record, basically because it has the worst cover of all. But, as I listen to it more and open my heart to it, I feel it creeping in. Okay, sure, screaming ‘guns, razors, knives!’ doesn’t appeal to this new version of me in a collared shirt, but otherwise, I find it very nice.

I finished teaching today. A whole school year — just over six months. It was, by far, the best teaching experience I have ever had. Although I didn’t think that my time in Japan did much more my pedagogical practice, it did. A lot. Teaching English might not be the most interesting thing, but classroom maintenance is classroom maintenance in any context. The students I had in this course were pretty great though: really kind, interesting people who were very forgiving of my first year teaching at this level. I have been asked to teach again next year, so that will be very nice and quite welcome to the ol’ Pihlaja current account which is sure to suffer over the intervening, dry summer months.

Not really, but it sounds more interesting that way.

My boots will be done tomorrow and I will have new glasses by next Wednesday. I’m looking forward to it. Big time. Bookish, western sensibility. I think it will work for me, kids. I can feel it in my bones.

And finally, somewhere along the way, I have started using Arial instead of Times New Roman. The OU uses Arial mainly, says it’s easier to read on computer screens. I think I agree, even if it is a bit low class: the font of the Proletariat!

28 March 2010


There are three things I should be doing instead of blogging:
  1. Working on handouts for class tomorrow
  2. Working on draft of paper for supervision meeting that is due before I go to sleep
  3. Working on my article for Language@Internet
  4. Working on an abstract for the American Anthropological Association Annual meeting
Wait, that's four.

So on Saturday I had big plans to spend some money on some clothes: some undershirts mostly and possibly a couple of dress shirts. I started rummaging through my wardrobe and found that I had a lot of quite acceptable stuff, nothing to buy really, but I did need to properly wash some of my shirts, and iron and starch them. I spent a couple of hours on this today and yesterday, realising that everything I already have, if I would just take care of it properly, would be quite nice. So I'm going to serious about ironing from now on.

I need to get new glasses as I haven't had my eyes checked in like a four years and was having trouble seeing some stuff at a conference last week. I made an appointment to get my eyes checked and already picked out the frames I want. Not the wayfarers. Gotta go cheaper, and not so trendy, I think. I did find some ones that make me look appropriately bookish though, so don't worry.

That AAA meeting I'm writing an abstract for is in New Orleans. Long way to actually going, but some real live ethnographic work might be in my future. Stay tuned.

26 March 2010


My Language@Internet article came back as a revise and resubmit. Huge for me: I love this journal and am even basing a large part of my research methods on an article from it.  Coming out in this journal would be fantastic: drinking among the giants. FANTASTIC!

UPDATED: After reading five pages of notes, I get the sense that this would be a great article if it were another article. That's fine: I just need to make it another article.

25 March 2010

Back in the house

I'm back to my desk and back to normal, for the most part. My brother-in-law was here with his family (partner and son) for the week.
  • On Sunday, we went out into the villages: had cream tea, went to a farmer's market, and ate dinner a pub in Woburn.
  • On Monday, we drove to Cockfosters and I went to Middlesex while they took the underground into the city to go to the British Museum. I met them there in the late afternoon and we went to Oxford Circus to find the Vivienne Westwood shop. We found it, and I felt terribly out of place there. We then went to Liberty, a big, high class department store in Oxford Circus, where I again felt out of place, thinking the whole time that I wish I could fit in at a place like that. More on this later. We then ate, quite inexplicably, at Pizza Hut in Piccadilly Circus, and came home.
  • On Tuesday, we hired a car and all of us went out to Oxford (all meaning Yoko and the kids too). We went to the covered market, had coffee outside, ate on the lawn in front of Christ's church, and got ten-hole Dr. Marten's for my nephew.  We then went up to the outlet malls in Bicester Village (Paul Smith and Ralph Lauren, being the hottest in my humble opinion) and spent the rest of the day looking at clothes. They got me a bitchin' Paul Smith tie that is pretty much the coolest piece of clothing I own.
  • On Wednesday, I came to work and they stayed in Milton Keynes.
  • And this morning, they took the train to Paris.
It was a whirlwind tour, but they are quite easy people to live with. We have stayed with them many times at their house in Japan, so it was nice to be able to reciprocate a little and also have some family contact, as we hardly ever get to see my or Yoko's family in real life. I think they had a good time.

I felt odd negotiating between two cultures, Japanese and British, not being really a part of either. It was interesting: I was trying to explain to Yoko that British and Japanese people read different things as rude, so it's strange to see people act and react to each other.

Something I realised when I was in Paris with my sister is that I have very little awareness of myself as an American, with a particular American accent. This is, perhaps, because when I am not at work, I am generally with Yoko and the kids, speaking in Japanese. This is a cloak of invisibility, I think: I am completely ambiguous to the British people I am around because it is not a language they can place, especially spoken by a large white person. In Paris, though, my sister and I were sitting at a counter in a cafe, talking, and I realised that everyone could place us as Americans. We talked in a certain way, we behaved in a certain way. Our should and should nots came from an American perspective and there was no way to hide that.

I guess my being embarrassed about that, or not liking it, or being uncomfortable about it, is silly, as it is who I am. But I have now lived almost 25% of life overseas and feel so disconnected from the States. It's strange to realise that I will never be really disconnected from it.

I should have warned this entry will be long.

On to fashion: my in-laws are very fashionable. Very aware of what's hot and what's not. They dress well and look good all of the time. I, on the other hand, have only recently come into thinking about fashion-type things, convinced of it's value, finally, by that movie about the girl interning at the fashion magazine... The Devil wears Prada.

In that movie, if you haven't seen it, there's a great scene where the intern is talking about how she doesn't care about fashion, and the editor of the magazine just takes her apart over it, explaining the history of the sweater the intern is wearing and basically exposing the intern's ignorance. The long and short of it was, if you wear clothes, you engage fashion. And if you think you don't because you think you make your choices about clothing based on price or comfort or whatever, you are basically just being told what to wear by the store you shop at. And when people look at you, they see you as something based on what you wear, whether consciously or not, and whether you like it or not.

Or something like that.

Anyway, so I have been a bit more fashion conscious, not to a silly extent, but I think about what I wear a bit more and more importantly, about what my clothes say about who I am, and how other people read what I wear. This has involved acquisition of boots, jeans, dress shirts, and sport coats, a mixture of which says what I think I want to say: confident, laid-back, understated, American independence (wait, what did I just say about not wanting to be an American?). So I think the next thing I want to get is a pair of Paul Smith jeans, on sale, of course, but cut skinny and narrow, unlike the Levi's that I wear now. That and I should probably start starching my shirts.

My nephew got these Dr. Marten's that were totally hot and reminded me of being 16 and my mom getting me Dr. Marten's. I felt like I could take over the world in those shoes.

All this leads us nowhere: the sun is shining and I have writing to do. I was invited to take part in a meeting of academics and a 'number of [business] representatives from companies and organizations (consultancy firms, banks, law firms, communication and PR professionals, and so on)' at the conference I'm attending in June in Amsterdam. I can't tell if this was an invite to only a small number of people presenting, or everyone presenting, but given that my dream is to basically be an academic four days a week and a consultant one day a week, this could be a good start. Looks like a grey suit and, fingers crossed, short trips to the continent for business, are in my future.

21 March 2010

Sunday morning

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and will continue to be busy, but I wanted to catch a couple of thoughts about Paris while I still could.

My sister and I went early on Wednesday morning and came back late on Thursday night. The weather was perfect and sitting outside of the Louvre beside the reflecting pools, in the park that stretches out in front of it toward the Arc de Triomphe, I said again that Paris is the place for me. We walked from Anvers, where we were staying, down to the Latin Quarter on Thursday morning, weaving in and out of the streets until we came to the river. We ate lunch on the Seine, next to Norte Dame.

I’m not sure that I would be able to live there with the family: it would be too much for all of us, I think. But maybe Marseille. Or in 20 years, maybe, after the girls have moved out and we have some money.

But for now, Yoko’s brother and his family are here, so I will be running around with them for the next couple of days. When they go home, I will have to pivot back to my project, marking for Birmingham, and starting this new project with my boss at Middlesex about gender and language in parliamentary talk in N. Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Good things all around, but I am still letting my mind wander back to cafes and shopkeepers smoking in the door frames of their stores.

16 March 2010

15 March 2010


The first article off of my disseration last year came out today:

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2010) The Pope of YouTube: Metaphor and Misunderstanding in Atheist-Christian YouTube Dialogue. The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue 3: 25-35. Available online at: <http://irdialogue.org/journal/issue03/the-pope-of-youtube-metaphor-and-misunderstanding-in-atheist-christian-youtube-dialogue-by-stephen-pihlaja/>

14 March 2010

My bad Saturday

  • Debit card details stolen: £30 charged to card. Luckily, I can get it back, but my card has to be replaced and I won't have it before I go to Paris on Wednesday. Great.
  • Drove car into a wall. I have a nice scratch on the passenger side back door. That will be like £100 to fix I think.
The sun is shining now, though, and I planted some grass yesterday after doing some cleaning in the garden. I cut back some of our plants, mowed, and dug up the very weird potato patch outside the back door. I then smoked my pipe, enjoying my handiwork.

I can't complain: going to France, sister coming, sun shining. I also saw another possibility for me after I finish my PhD that would extend my stay in the UK for about a year and not require a new visa. Great!

12 March 2010

Something is going on here

Something metaphorical is going on here: I'm not sure what.
Jesus didn't care about subs or views.


What can everyone do? Praise and blame. This is human virtue, this is human madness.-Nietzsche

11 March 2010

Trying to decide

We are going on vacation this summer, mark my words. Current contenders are:
  • Nice
  • Lisbon
  • Budapest
  • Somewhere in Scandinavia
  • Rome

I'm leaning towards Nice.

The bad news is that on the discount flights, Naomi is counted as an adult now and Mei still has to pay half, even if she's on a lap. The good news is that the price of us flying as a family is now likely not to change forever. That's good news, of course, especially if I get a real job.

Rothko's Rooms

I watched Rothko's Rooms last night, a documentary about Rothko's paintings and particularly the seagram murals that I have been trying to see. Yes, they were at the Tate Britain (when it was originally just the Tate) and yes, they were at the Tate Modern. They are not being displayed now, unfortunately. Some of the other murals that were intended for the Seagram building are in Chiba, so I missed out on that too, I guess. Oh well: at least I'm not batshit and the murals were here at one time. Hopefully they will display them again soon.

A late Rothko, getting closer to his death, although his daughter, in the documentary, warned against reading this as somehow indicative of his mental state deteriorating.

UPDATED: FOUND THEM! They're in Liverpool until 21 March.

10 March 2010

Stay-at-home dad

Yoko is fighting off an infection, leaving her with no energy and a high fever. She stayed in bed today, leaving me to fend off the children and mark essays. I did my best. At one time in my life, I wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. Having stayed at home with the kids a couple of times, I don't think it is my vocation, but I do okay. The house is clean. The kids are clean and well fed and in bed now. I didn't make dinner, getting Chinese food instead, but I was sort of expecting all day that Yoko would get up and say, 'Okay you can go to work now.' It never happened.

Doing this is supposed to be some revelation to men about how hard their wives have it (in the traditional, American sitcom world, at least), but I don't find it that difficult. The thing about being at home with the kids is that you have no supervisor. No one is riding your ass to do anything. I find that to be liberating. No deadlines. Things have to get done, I suppose, but you can make it fit as you want.

When Yoko is ill, all the girls end up sleeping in our bed and I am banished to the guestroom. I sort of hate that with a passion. Having kids is all about splitting your energy up into millions of little pieces, and you end up with very little left at the end of the day. Sleeping in the same bed with your wife is sometimes all you have: to lose it, even for two nights, sucks pretty hard.

Ah well--this was all very self-pitying. I got my French homework done and the kids are asleep, so I can have three hours or so to myself. Luckily, my Rothko documentary came today, so I can watch that while working on my first six month progress review for the PhD. One down, five to go.

08 March 2010

Sets my heart a-reelin'

What a busy, busy weekend. Bob Dylan has almost nothing to do with the rest of this post, except that he is playing a piano.
When we left Japan, everybody and their mother promised to come visit us in the UK and I kept thinking, Yeah, sure, ain't going to happen. Well, to my surprise, it is starting to happen, and I couldn't be happier. This weekend, we had one of my former students (who was a part of class I taught at Yoko's university) come and stay with us. She was in England for some training and spent the night on Saturday night. We had a great time: got a little drunk and I got to listen to Yoko and her friends talk in real Japanese like real Japanese people. It reminded me a lot of Japan, in the Japaneseiest way possible.

Earlier on Saturday, our piano came, carried by two very rough looking guys with their asses hanging out of their trousers. They weren't very gentle with the piano, but it got here in one piece. The plan I had for putting the piano on skids didn't work, so I had to hurry off to B & Q to buy particleboard and cut it up. In the process, I scrapped some paint of the wall: a huge failure. And then in the process of being frustrated about that, I ended up getting angry with Yoko and cussing at her in Japanese, something I don't do often and I always end up regretting the moment I do it. Good husbands do not take their frustrations out on their wives, I'm told.

But I was able to eventually get it all sorted, and the piano sounds nice enough (being that it was free) and Yoko and the girls enjoy it. I'm working on an arrangement of Come thou fount every blessing in minor chords (marking it as ironic, and the blessings you're singing of even more ironic) that I will record and post up here eventually. It's very mournful and sounds great in the belly of an old piano.

On Sunday morning, having my student here gave me an excuse to skip the church service. We walked around with the sheep near the OU and had cappuccino at the most beautiful little pub behind the school. The sky was electric and blue again. We went back to the house around 1, just in time to enjoy the potluck lunch for a member of the church who is returning to Japan. I ate and ate and ate.

This morning, I got up and went to work, enjoying the ride on the train as much as usual. I finished my teaching, and now only have two days of classes and one day of tutorials before I'm done for the year. It's gone so fast. Between classes today, I walked up to the student union to buy coffee, with my notebook portfolio and a stack of essays to mark. I realised that I was getting close to my dream of being a professor on a campus like this, with my essays to mark, and my sweater vest and cowboy boots. Perfect, I thought. Absolutely perfect.

Now for a week of discourse analysis, literature review writing, and French studies.

Broken Bells

As you might have heard, the Broken Bells album came out today in the UK. It was everywhere on my way to work: huge promotional posters on the walls of the underground and this nice article in the free London daily that you find all over the tube in the mornings.

This part here says it all. I, like Danger Mouse, feel a charge when I hear about stuff like this.

06 March 2010

Making sense of the world

This last week, I had an interesting talk with a colleague about identity, which happens just about every other day in my experience given that it's what I've devoted this part of my life to understanding. Obviously, whenever you start trying to figure out the identity of someone else, you start to think about your own identity. The reflexive nature of the social sciences.

I, of course, do not self-identify as a Christian, but my colleague pointed out that, more-or-less, I live my life orgnaised around judeo-Christian morality. I have one wife, that I married and intend to stay married to until I or she or both of us die. I don't go out and party and get drunk. I work, Yoko stays at home. I make the money, Yoko cares for the kids. The list could continue on for a while. Perhaps more of this has to do with being white, upper middle class from the Midwest of the States... But still, being white, upper middle class from the States, at least for people in my generation, means to be, if not Christian, at least a theist and oriented towards a theistic understanding of the world.

Now, I may not believe in a god, and I may be oriented toward empirical evidence over dogma. But my 22 some odd years of religious life still are embedded in who I am. And with all the Christianity that surrounded me for so long and that is still surrounding me, I am not likely to be completely free from all the trappings of it. This, of course, is not all bad, but it occurred to me for the first time that although I thought I had made a great deal of progress, had emerged from the metaphorical darkness of religion, I hadn't really substantially changed much in life.


Mei-mei might have curly hair.

05 March 2010

My week

I love it

One of the things I hate, HATE, is when people complain about formal education and talk about how much they are above it and what a waste of time it is. It's the sort of bullshit that Glenn Beck trades in: education as a conspiracy. Ugh. Anyway, YouTuber thunderf00t, brilliant and Scottish, makes it clear why it has value.

Coming together

After several months of wandering in the PhD wilderness, several important things have come together this week. Namely:
  • A good solid research question that will likely last me three years (see below)
  • A literature review with a clear structure. This is great because, unlike my earlier writing when I wasn't sure what I needed to write about, the more I work on this, the more clear it becomes what I need to add. Fabulous.
  • A working knowledge of AtlasTI, which will really help me organise my analysis.
Plus, the sun is shining. For a whole week, the sun has been shining. Can you believe it?

04 March 2010

03 March 2010


Mei-mei, well rested after a five hour nap, is ready to play. I wake up to her clawing at my eyes. How did you get into bed?

This look explains it all.

Research question

One of the things I have been working and working and working for the last five months is some clear goal for my research. After finishing the Masters of Research last year, I was a bit... not lost, exactly. I was happy to be unsure what I was doing. I thought I might be interested in Internet communities, but I didn't really know. What I was quite sure of: I did not want to spend another year counting metaphors.

Not having a research question was fine for about two months, but at some point, you really need to say what it is that you're doing. And in just about the middle of February, this lack of a clear objective really was killing me. So I worked on it for about a week, thinking about what it was that I was really trying to do. It turns out, of course, that everything I have been reading about and thinking about is one or another element of the question, but it's finally come together as:
How does discourse contribute to the emergence of‘communities among atheist and Christian users on YouTube?
I will then add subquestions about voice and metaphor, but at the core, this is what I am interested in. I am not interested, as I thought, in what community is, per se. I'm interested in how this thing they call community emerges from talking. Fundamentally, a very different thing, I think.

Now that this is settled, my writing has become much more focused and the report I have less than three months to finish (which needs to include a literature review, methods section, and pilot study) will come together more clearly. Once you have your research question decided, you know clearly what should or shouldn't be included. It's like a mantra in one way, a road map in another. It's a question I also, my supervisor remarked, don't know the answer to, something that wasn't true of my MRes work. My supervisor was happy: she said, I'm glad you worked this out and we didn't have to tell you. I took this as a compliment. I'd rather be a hard-working B student rather than a very smart A student.

02 March 2010

Amsterdam in June

Looking forward to this conference: big time.
The reviewing of abstracts has been completed by the Scientific Committee for the “Eighth International Conference on Researching and Applying Metaphor: Metaphor and Domains of Discourse” to be held at the Vrije Universiteit (VU), Amsterdam, Netherlands from 30 June through 3 July 2010. With some 200 abstracts received and room for only 130 paper presentations and 20 posters, the competition was considerable. However, given the high scores your submission received, we are pleased to inform you that your abstract has been accepted for a PAPER presentation.

ID: 145
Title: Finding meaning in dynamic contexts: A case study of metaphor-led discourse analysis as a core to discourse-centred ethnography

I'm an idiot, or not

I had a chance to talk to a friend of my at the OU who is doing research on the Tate's programme for kids and she tells me that the Rothko room IS at the Tate Modern. She described to me where it was, and I'm SURE that I have been to that part of the museum before, but I guess I just missed it. And, of course, as the Tate Britain is (duh) only BRITISH artists, of course, Rothko isn't there. I'm an idiot.

But, now I'm confused. This seems to indicate that this is an old display...

Here is an article about the Rothko Room..

So, back to the Tate Modern, although I'm not sure when I will get there. One of these days.

01 March 2010

Rothko evades me again

Apparently, this gallery that I am looking for, that I heard Thom Yorke talk about in an interview, was just an exhibition. It is not a permanent holding at Tate Britain. Don't get me wrong, Tate Britain is great, a beautiful space. But they have not one Rothko there. Not one.

I bought some Rothko postcards and asked the man selling them, Where are these? and he said that they were all over the world and they must have been here for the 'big Rothko show' they had a while back. When was that, I asked. Apparently last year. Why wasn't I called?

Well, so I saw some interesting early Francis Bacon stuff and some rather boring portraits of rich, white people from the 1800's. After I finished looking around, I sat out in the front of the museum, facing the Thames, and waited for the GP to call about my blood test results. While waiting, I read some more Bakhtin and ate a ham sandwich. The GP didn't call, so I headed up Millbank towards Westminster and my phone started ringing. The GP said that  there was a problem with my blood test (low iron or something) unrelated to my urinary tract and she ordered more tests for me. She asked how I was feeling and I said, Well, okay, until you told me that I had a low iron problem and now I feel sort of like my iron is low.

I walked up to Westminster, through St. James Park, up to Green Park Station, and then back to Piccadilly Circus. The weather was gorgeous. I fell asleep on the train to work and woke up before Arnos Grove. The walk to school was reposant and now, I have printed everything and am waiting patiently for class to begin.

UPDATED: The exhibition I missed.