29 June 2010

Social Media and Metaphor, Day 2

Things went well yesterday. As per usual, the data and my prezi made a good impression and I had good talks with quite a few people about what I am doing. They asked me to put a paper into the proceedings from the conference, which should be a good output for my pilot study and the working paper I wanted to work on.

Camden was nice. We had a nice dinner and I've met some very good people, but I leave after the first session today and head out to Amsterdam.

28 June 2010

Social Media and Metaphor Tour, Day 1

Well, I'm at my conference in London now, which is fortuitously at the Open University campus, meaning that I can use the Internet with no problem at all. The hotel is quite nice, but you have to pay for both the Internet and the breakfast, two small inconveniences that are actually both good for my productivity and not getting fat on this trip. I did, however, forget two important things already: my electricity adapter for Amsterdam and my mouse. Not that bad, I suppose.

My birthday was subdued and it was a nice afternoon. We took a bike ride in the morning. As I suspected, the ride into the city was quite nice, especially now that I have some new music from iTunes cards I got from various members of my family, including:
  • The new Drake album
  • Blueprint III
  • Broken Bells album
  • Conor Oberst album from a few years ago
  • Get Lonely
So far all of them have been very nice. I quite like Broken Bells one because I like Danger Mouse.

27 June 2010

27th year memorial run

I took it really, really easy, walking even for about a half mile when I just didn't feel like running anymore.

Name: Regular Run
Date: 06/27/2010
Time Taken: 01:16:00
Workout Weight: 185.0 lbs.
Total Distance: 7.27 mi.
Burned: 1,012 (kcal)
Pace: 10:30 (avg)
Speed: 5.7 (mi/hr) (avg)

Reflections on my twenty-seventh year

It's about time I banged this out, as I have been pacing around the garden with a cup of coffee feeling sorry for myself for the last hour or so. Tomorrow, I will turn 28. Not anything to write home about particularly because I don't feel 28 — I have felt like I was 56 since I was about 14. When I actually turn 56, I will think back on all the years I had wasted trying to get to 56, and probably feel melancholy about it, but hey, that is, perhaps, just how I roll. Birthdays, particularly since I have been married, have been pretty lackluster. Last year was a low point, but I suspect this year might give it a run for its money, as, for my wife, birthdays are not much of anything but a day to eat a bit of cake and get on with life. I don't begrudge her this; we did, of course, grow up in very different cultures and households, but if you'll recall from this January when we had the five days of Yoko's birthday, I feel a bit differently about the birthday as a celebration of someone.

I inherit this importance of birthdays from my father who, as I think about it, always took the day off on our birthdays and we always went out to breakfast, just the two of us. I remember racing go karts and playing miniature golf: all these sorts of things. It's funny, as my relationship with my father has improved in the last couple of years, so have my memories of these times. I remember being happy and carefree. I remember my dad getting me a Twins spring training baseball cap (the white one) — just buying it off the rack like it was something at the supermarket because it was my birthday.

Tomorrow will likely not have any moments like that, except that at the end of it, I will get on a London Midlands train to Euston and then walk from Euston up to Camden, where there is a hotel reservation in my name, made by a conference that is paying for me to stay in London for two nights. In return, I will tell them about YokeUp and YouTube Christians. This is, of course, my dream come true in more than one way, so the frustration of another mediocre birthday will be mitigated.

So my twenty-seventh year included new glasses; gaining another Master's and finishing my first year of my PhD; a move to a much bigger house; two trips to France, one to the US, and one to Scotland; lots of reading and writing; a publication and a revise and resubmit at a journal I quite respect; lots of running and biking; teaching in an MA programme for the first time; and some French study. More importantly, and less tangibly, is a sense of stability and confidence that has been lacking for the last five years or so. This comes from me making peace with the empty, god-shaped hole left in my heart by religion and accepting that there is so much that I don't know. I also made peace with myself watching members of my old band play a show on a bitterly cold night in Chicago in January, which is really what this post is all about.

My goals for 28? Reading and writing. Come to think of it, that's my goal for the rest of my life. There is so much I don't know.

25 June 2010


I am a very critical person. Overly critical, in fact. Look at any picture of me in my normal state, trying to look normal, but, as you can tell, I look like I'm judging something. And that's probably right. I am probably judging something. Being overly critical is, in my line of work, quite useful. You need to be able to criticise and be criticised if you want to survive in academia. You have to be your own harshest critic. In matrimony and paternity, however, these skills of criticism are not that helpful. In fact, they can destroy your relationships if you're not careful. And if you're really not careful, they can destroy your relationships and leave you thinking that it doesn't matter, you were right all along. I need to not fall into this trap. Part of this, I decided last year, was just about choosing to be happy rather than depressed. I think I've improved a bit at being happier and not letting myself drag myself down when I get upset. But I'm still pretty critical of everything.

That was a long introduction to get to this story: so for the last couple of weeks, I've been coming home and finding my toothbrush in different places in the house. The living room, the floor of the bathroom, my office. Now, I know that the toothbrush is up too high for the kids to get without some aid, but I have done my best not to say anything about it: just dutifully putting it back in its place.

Today, however, I came down for breakfast and there was my toothbrush on the kitchen counter. In an effort to deduce what had happened, I asked Yoko, prefacing my question with the caveat 'this is just a question'. Apparently, the kids like playing with my toothbrush which I, to my credit, had already figured out. Anyway, I threw it away and gave myself passing mark on not getting as frustrated as I normally would. This almost certainly doesn't solve the problem, but it was a small victory.

24 June 2010


The problem with finishing my probationary review/mini-viva on Monday is the sense of listlessness that has overcome me again as I try to do worthwhile things. It is 24 June and I leave for my week of travels on Sunday night, so I expect that to help me reset my academic clock. If it doesn't, however, I'm not quite sure what I can do. My mind has wandered several times to the lost summer of 2008, and I have been wanting to make penitence for my wasting of time and resources, by writing about it.

In 2007, you may recall, I applied for the studentship at the OU and came in second. After failing to win it (and resigning myself to a life of teaching English in Japan, which I was warming to), I decided to go full on to find a good job to support myself and my small family. I got the job I wanted at a small university near where we were living and, although it was in the back of my mind that I was going to apply for and might win the studentship in 2008, it seemed quite unlikely. I did apply for it and did win it, leaving me in the awkward position of having to resign from a teaching post about two months after I had started. Really, a disaster of being spoiled for choice. My boss at the university assumed that I had lied to her and planned on quitting all along, leading to a very uncomfortable situation in which she was essentially trying to get me evicted from the university apartment a month early and taking a month's pay from me. The OU was doing a very shitty job of making me feel like I was actually going to be a student in the autumn leaving me feeling it might not end up working out and I would be completely stuck. Added to that, Yoko was suffering from an awful skin problem that was only being made worse by the heat. Terrible pressure from all sides, really.

As the summer wore on, it got hotter and although I finished my classes in July, I was still feeling the weight of having let this little university down and just wanting to leave. I managed to keep my apartment and pay, but only by putting my foot down, further pissing off my boss. Summer holiday finally came, but Naomi was going to day school and Yoko was working, so I spent the days at home all day, waiting for the night to come and another day to pass. I wasted the whole summer, sitting in front of the computer, terrified that I had made the wrong choice and worried that the move was going to pull our young family apart.

When we left Niigata on the last day of August, I felt free suddenly. We rode on the ferry (I've written about this before) and we looked back at Niigata as the boat pushed away. I remember bits and snatches from those three months: I remember riding my bike a lot, getting lunch at the supermarket, doing research about moving. I remember how melancholy Yoko was from the skin problem and the inevitable coming end of  our life in Japan. I remember how hot it was, but I remember it raining very hard a couple of times. I remember what it was like when everything had finally been taken out of the apartment. I remember wanting so badly to go into my bosses' office and beg her to understand why I did what I did. It was understandable, right? You would have done the same thing, wouldn't you?

All that is done now. I have finished my first year of my PhD and am thinking that a career in British academia is not only possible, but likely. My family has survived the move: Yoko hasn't left me to go back to Japan. It seems to be working out. I'm nervous saying that — who knows what will happen in the next year, month, day. But it seems to be working.

Mei and Naomi

I like this picture.

The girls

23 June 2010

Rise and walk

This one started walking last week without much fanfair. Just decided to start walking.

21 June 2010

Second year starts today

I completed my upgrade viva today and am now a second year PhD student, or rather, a PhD student as I had been technically registered as an MPhil student for the first year. The viva went well (presentation here, although, not a lot to see). The whole thing was a lot less intense than I thought it was going to be. The quietest part of the day happened when I  was sent out of the room. They chatted about my work for twenty minutes while I stood alone at a floor to ceiling window in an adjacent room, looking out on the empty football pitch and the woods beyond it.

Life as a family man

This bike trailer, brought by my parents from the States last year and finally assembled Thursday- Sunday, is a ton of fun for everyone involved. Yoko needs a bicycle and then things will be even better. But this weekend I took the girls out and it was great. Really, way better than a car.

20 June 2010

Religion in Society Conference 2011

On behalf of the Organising Committee for the International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society, I am pleased to inform you that your proposal has been accepted. Details of your proposal have now been added to the public conference website at: http://N11.cgpublisher.com/proposals/69
This is my first US conference (in Chicago, no less), but I'm trying to decide if it will be worth it or not. Gotta see if I can get a busary or not... I'll go if I get a bursary. If not, I'll do a virtual presentation, I think.

16 June 2010

A bunch of stuff

This is what Mei and Naomi looked liked a year ago today.

I've had a long struggle with the car we bought when we moved to the UK. I won't use the term 'bamboozle', but every step of the way with this car has involved somebody screwing me over, for a cumulative total of £300 or more as several of the problems that developed in the course of the car being 'fixed' are still present. One of the constant problems with the car has been a smell of gasoline when the windows are open, particularly strong in the back. I have really noticed it this year, but I think we had the same problem last summer. Anyway, when I had MOT done on it in the autumn, the garage told me that I needed a new petrol cap and charged me some ridiculous amount for it. The problem of the gasoline smell persisted so I finally thought, I'll give the cap another shot and ordered a used one for our car model online for like £14. Well, it seems to have solved the problem, confirming my suspicion that garage screwed me. Several small problems persist with the car mostly the inability of anyone to balance the tyres, but I think I will be able to have them solved when the car is serviced/ MOT'd in the autumn, at a new garage which doesn't seem to be screwing me over. You can't trust anyone in this world.

Having fixed the smell in the car, I cleaned it out and took some garbage away to the dump this morning. There is a bazaar this weekend that Japanese folk in Milton Keynes always do, so we will be selling some junk there too. It feels good to simplify and have the garage more accessible.

I had my final supervision meeting before my upgrade viva next week. It went well: my supervisors are pleased and seem to think I have matured as a researcher/ escape artist over the last year. My supervisor also mentioned that I might want to write an article in the autumn, something she has discouraged up until now. I think I have enough data and findings for a short methods paper, so we'll see if I can get it in a peer-reviewed, print journal. Need to have a print publication to please the gods who, apparently, are unable to use the Internet.

They, my supervisors, not the gods, also told me that I needed to take two weeks off in the summer: no work at all. I am building a list of activities for our family to do during that time including:
  • road trip to Wales and Stonehenge
  • bike riding (lots)
  • running (lots)
  • reading Part 3 of Murakami's 1Q84 in Japanese
Otherwise, things just feel right. I'm not sure how else to describe it. At around 11:30 last night, I went out into the garden to smoke my pipe and look up at the stars. The lights were on in the house, giving the impression that there was some play going on inside with no actors. I paced around, smoking slowly, and thinking about how all disparate strains in my life unify every so often. Perhaps it's just that I'm not used to having a year of life without any major upheaval--it's been 8 years of big life events, one after another after another. Perhaps 2010 will be the year that nothing happens and I can just enjoy being alive and well fed.

Lastly, Naomi was crying and crying and crying around bath time yesterday. I got impatient and just put her in, telling her that she had to stop if the bath was going to get done with any time soon. She kept crying for Mommy all throughout as I got progressively more and more frustrated. She got done and Yoko held her while I tidied up. Yoko told me afterwards that she is worried about going to school in the autumn and particularly having to speak English. I'm surprised that she's aware of it as a problem. I tried to reassure her at breakfast today, said that it would be fine and she would make a lot of friends and didn't she want to have a lot of friends? She said no and kept eating her toast. It's going to be a long three months, I think.

15 June 2010

How can you as X research Y?

This question has come up twice today. You might have heard this argument before:
  • How can you as an atheist research fundamentalist Christians? or
  • How can you as a Christian research Christians? or
  • How can you as a white man research African-American discourse?
Subjectivity, it seems, is a problem for everyone.

I solve this problem, in part, by arguing that my research is descriptive. I am not trying to make a value judgment about what I am researching. I want a fundamentalist Christian (indeed, the fundamentalist Christian I am analysing) reading my work to agree that I have accurately described what they have said. There is nothing about the rightness or wrongness of what they are claiming. Just the description of the event and how I see events emerging around the event.

This is not, of course, a sufficient response. Yes, as X, I observe Y from my little point of view as X. I have to interrogate my  Xness, see how it changes my perception of Y, ask how someone from the viewpoint of T might see Y. But, at the end of the day, I am X and there’s nothing that I can do about that. All I can do is identify my Xness and constantly keep my eye out for how it crops up in my work and affects my reading of the event.

The real answer is, however, everyone is an X. By asking how X can research Y, all you've done is push the question up a level. The real question is how can we know anything about anything? The answer to that is, of course, we can't.

11 June 2010

What I've been doing for two days

Trying to learn how to make a prezi.com presentation. Worst interface ever. Gotta free us from powerpoint though. Somehow.

10 June 2010

And I'm an idiot

You may remember a couple of years ago, I lost my wallet in a McDonald's bathroom stall in Niigata City, Japan. After this happened, I swore to myself that I would never be so foolish again. Well, yesterday, I did it again. The rundown was simple:
  1. Wearing my new, shorter dickies, I opened the bike park cage outside of Stuart Hall.
  2. I rode my bike about 3 miles towards home.
  3. Halfway home, I had the odd sense that I was missing something.
  4. I stopped, rummaged through my bag and realised I didn't have my wallet.
  5. I sped back to campus, looking on the ground hoping to find it.
  6. Back at campus, I called security and asked them to let me into my building so I could start calling and canceling my credit cards.
  7. As I was standing outside in the rain, thinking about how stupid I was, the secretary for my department, leaving for the day, saw me and said, 'Did you lose your wallet?' Apparently it had fallen out of my pocket on the way out of campus and a friendly social scientist who was smoking outside of a building saw it, picked it up, and returned it.
Then and now:


I got back on the horse today, running from home to work, with my backpack on. It was okay, but the extra 20lbs. was a little hard on my knees. I think I will do this again, though. Kills two birds with one stone.

09 June 2010

Huffington Post

Josh Stanton wrote a bit about YouTube and my research on the Huffington Post. Yes, that is THE Huffington Post, the most read blog in the Internet.

That's pretty cool.

08 June 2010

I have no fear of anyone: I'm young and wild and free

May and June have been wicked busy for me, but I am just starting to see the hints of daylight. Yesterday we had the exam board at Middlesex and I filled out my final two reports meaning that I am completely done there for the 2009-2010 school year. I will have to be back on 15 October. I just finished my marking for Birmingham although I haven't sent it off yet. This leaves me with a couple of presentations to write, a viva to prepare for, and a French homework to complete before leaving for a week on the night of 27 June. When I get home from that trip, I will have a quiet summer until I have my French exam at the end of September. After I finish French, well, I don't know what I will do with myself.

I sort of blew the marking of the exams in one of the courses I taught this year: they had to be completely redone. I realised what I did wrong, but I was really embarrassed about the whole thing. I should have done better. The trip was good, but I was happy to get home: I worked a lot and drove a lot. It was good to see the Yorkshire moors especially as they are sort of related to Sylvia Plath going mad. Scotland was nice and the B&B was nice. I should have just stopped working on Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed it, but I was trying to finish up my marking the whole time.

Soon, I will be 28. This is not really a milestone of any kind in life. I feel like I spent most of 27 keeping my head down and working hard. I suspect 28 will be much of the same. I am very happy to be working and doing what I enjoy though. The family is happy and I am tired, but content. One of the things that's really been on my mind the last couple of weeks is how few friends I have left. Working and having a family all while moving to a new country has really made my base of friends smaller. I am also realising how hard it is to maintain relationships with the Christians that were in my life before I left. How can you continue to be friends with people who think that your shedding of belief is a problem that needs solving. I feel like I am always having to assure everyone that I am, in fact, okay. Perhaps it's all in my mind.

06 June 2010

Back from York/ Scotland

Went to York and Scotland. The kids were pretty good. Yoko had a good time. I worked a lot and enjoyed listening to Frightened Rabbit in their homeland.

03 June 2010


Gone to York (old, not new) for a seminar on empathy, then on to Scotland to stay in a B&B. Back on Sunday — seriously, behave yourselves while I'm gone.

01 June 2010

Parliamentary Hansards

Counting lines of speech in parliamentary hansards is about as fun as it sounds, but every so often there's a gem:
Mr. Speaker: I say, gently and in a good spirit, to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who has done well out of me today, that in future the abridged rather than the "War and Peace" version will suffice.