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.