31 December 2011

2012 Mantra

I'm drinking wine and looking out my window: it's pitch black already at 16:56, but today was longer than yesterday and tomorrow will be longer than today.

Rather than make resolutions for 2012, which I am bound to try to follow to the letter, I have decided to make a mantra this year.
Live happy, live healthy, live hungry.
That's all I really want, I think.

Live happy. I'm still not a very happy individual, but I am more than I was in 2008, that's for sure. More than 2009, too. I'm not a good husband, but I am a better husband than I was in 2010. I'm not a good father, but I feel like I am getting better, rather than worse. This is something: I'll be ready to have kids when I am 45 and they have all left me. Come back! I can care for you now! I told Yoko today that part of what I think makes our family successful, at least at this point, is the rush of forward momentum. Kids bring that into your life: you are always moving forward in time. It's nice. Children are nice: they keep us equal parts sane and mad.

Live healthy. Last year I saw health in terms of a number on the scale. It is that, but the body is a complex, not a closed, simple system. Kilo-calories in and out is a beginner's guide to the body: maintenance is more complicated. I want to be healthy in the long term, not skinny in the short term. From September, things have been better though. Eating good things, not bad. Rebounding, but not returning. Muscle, not fat. No binging, less refined sugar. I want to continue this: to be stronger, but less concerned about being stronger.

Live hungry. In 2012, my PhD will end, pushing me forward into something: the unknown future, the precipice. I have been, for the last four years, paid to write, essentially. That's always been my goal and will always be my goal: to get paid to write. Having four years of it is an incredible, unimaginable gift. I have been lucky.

I'm listening to Blackout Beach's 'Fuck Death' with 7 hours left in the year. Yes, fuck death, but as we all know, death is not dead. I always worry that the next step is the step where my luck runs out, but: happy, healthy, hungry. That's about the best I think I can do for now: to the precipice, yes, what will we see at its edge.

27 December 2011

2011, the year of contentment

False starts again, what can we say about 2011? I don't like writing prompts, but something I wrote this time last year prompts me to write about 2011 again: what would I, 2010 Stephen wondered, be thinking about come the end of 2011...
I suppose not much of this is a mystery: the same sorts of things Stephen through the years thinks about. Particularly telling, as usual, is imagining telling myself last year what I accomplished this year and imagining what myself last year would have thought. When I list it off, it's impressive enough. 2010 Stephen would be happy, very happy. 2011 Stephen, as per usual, is happy that 2010 Stephen is happy, but at the same time, a bit frustrated with 2010 Stephen's ignorance about the world and simple understanding of success. And so it goes.

When Mia was born, I wrote about completion: she was planned and deliberate. Not a surprise. When I held her on that grey morning, I thought, yes, you are the completion of this family: the final piece. There were supposed to be five of us and here we are. Small, medium, and large.

In some sense, this year has revolved around that choice. I remember now that there was some concern she might have had Down's, but I have forgotten about it. Yoko's body pregnant. The feeling of seeing a new face for the first time, but a face you already know somehow.

I went to bed last night hearing the heating turn on and thinking to myself, how will we afford to heat this house, not realising that we are affording to heat it. Why is this such a surprise to me?

How things change in a year. In 2010: Naomi was terrified to go to playgroup in the first instance--it took her several months to settle and not cry when she was left. This year, she settled at reception in less than a couple of weeks, and now when we take her in the morning, she's a little politician, shaking hands and greeting all of her friends. Her teacher said: remember when she first came? Yes, I do: she needed to follow a procedure. 1) You will put my bag away, 2) I will put my water bottle and lunch away, 3) I will hang up my coat, 4) I will go to the toilet and you will stand next to the rubbish bin, 5) you will take me to Mrs Patterson and I will hold her hand and you will hug and kiss me and then leave.

Daddy: kiss, daddy: hug, the girls say before going to bed.

What I want to remember from this year, apart from the birth of Mia:

Standing outside of Madison Square Garden, Berto came around the corner and suddenly, I didn't have anything to worry about anymore. 

Lying in bed in Istanbul, the first call to prayer started, startling me awake, eerie and mournful at first, and then comforting. The sun was starting to come up and I went to the window to look out into the street.

Coming up out of the Berlin underground, disoriented in the fog, I had a map and there was a Bavarian-style building like you would imagine there would be in Germany.

Best to not worry about the future, the future will take care of itself: best to worry about the future, success is the result of determination and planning. My supervisor says to me, All you can do is your best: everything else is not up to you. She's right: all you can do is your best.

2012 Stephen will ruminate on 2012 and look back at 2011 Stephen and feel the same sort of loving pity. I want to look forward impressed by my success in the year to come, but it is completely uncertain at this point. You'll be okay--it's okay, don't worry: I know all you do is worry.

26 December 2011


Happy Christmas everyone: a day late.

When you're young, things happen to you. You make decisions, but they are all very carefully controlled. When you get older, you make decisions, but they don't have much consequence, for the most part: there's a lot you can recover from. When you get to the next stage, things start to matter more. I'm at that stage now, where things really start to matter.

Christmas makes these decisions sort of clear, particularly the more aware the kids become. Naomi is old enough to start remembering things and the decisions we make about Christmas are starting to become important. What do I think about Santa? What do I think about how much the kids should get? Are we going to do the American, Japanese, or UK Christmas? What traditions matter, which ones don't? How much do we want to spend on presents, what do we want to teach the kids about getting presents and giving them?

I have answers for none of those questions and like everything else related to my family life, I feel like I am falling into the answers. The kids got simple presents. We spent about £30 on each of them. That seems about right at this stage. All of their grandparents gave them stuff. The doll house is a huge success. Naomi's been wearing the dress-up costume she got for the last two days straight.

We ate a lot, but not a lot of sweets. Yoko told the kids that we were celebrating Jesus' birthday and then set out an apple with a bite taken out of it and a cup of half-drank tea to show the kids that Santa had come. I just watched, more passive than I would like to be, I suppose. I don't have an opinion about it: I don't know if I need one.

I'm much more concerned with the micro things of their behaviour than the macro things of belief. Picking up your coat, saying please and thank you, not climbing on the chairs. Belief is such a heavy thing for a child: I think this is the deepest and more ardent rebellion I have in me about my own upbringing. Let them come to belief on their own--I want to give them safe agnosticism and reason, not belief. And Santa, as silly as it seems, smacks of teaching faith despite reason.

How awful is that. What an awful thing to say.

And still, I did say on at least one occasion, if you don't behave, Santa won't come. How pernicious is that. Still not able to balance belief and action.

My headphones came, which are just about the best gift I could receive (from my parents and famed older brother and sister-in-law). My medicine bag came in the same box, but I kept correcting people: it's not a Christmas gift, I bought it for myself. I don't know why I insisted on saying that. Trying to not present myself as selfish? Trying to emphasise the fact that I had the money to buy it myself? I don't know — anyway, it doesn't matter.

I keep saying to Yoko, I wonder where we'll be next year. This is a Stephen concern, not a Yoko one. I worry about the future, she doesn't. I'm still awake, everyone else is sleeping. I'm taking the week off, I can't work on my PhD. Fuss with the headphones. Think about how to spend the iTunes card that came with them. Back to work in seven days. 2012 is coming: 30 and a PhD and an uncertain future. How can I think about Santa at times like these...

24 December 2011

Predictions for 2012

Well, after my smashing success from last year, I decided to go again. Let's see how I do!

Ron Paul win in Iowa for naught. Romney wins nomination quickly, loses by McCain margins to Obama. 

Charlie Sheen and/or Kim Kardashian cleans up/ finds Jesus
(Bonus politics/ entertainment: Herman Cain releases gospel album)

Death of Pope. New Pope: younger, Latino.

Widening debate on the value of the penny and/or nickel

Manning plea-bargains for espionage charges against Assange

Wild card!
Israel bombs Iran, everybody sort of forgets about it.

I think I've got some winners here!

2011 Predictions

Here are my predictions for 2011, done with my sister:

Me and the Maths-Literate Younger Sister are making some predictions for 2011 in six categories and then next year, we'll check them, see who was more accurate.

Me: Obama Rebound! Favorability above 55% within the year. (Obama back to 50%, not bad!)
MLYS: Three bills passed changing healthcare reform  (Uh...)

Me: Bieber sex scandal! (Dead on!)
MLYS: Hugh Hefner, dead at 114! (Not yet dead)

Me: So-called 'Ground Zero mosque' compromise. Still in NYC, but not so close to the WTC site. (Not moved but still going forward. Not really a compromise. I suck.)
MLYS: China opens its doors to the world religions! (Um...)

Me: Gay marriage in three more States (NEW YORK!)
MLYS: US birth rate increase (Er...)

Me: Waning interest in 3D films, no interest in 3D TV (YES!)
MLYS: Implanted child tracking chip (NO!)

Wild card!
Me: North Korea collapse! (OH MY GOD, sort of.)
MLYS: Julian Assange off the hook on sex charges, no comment on espionage (NO!)

Round deux, Maths-literate Younger sister?

22 December 2011


Is it late enough in the year to generalise about it?

26 June, I suppose that is the most important day of the year: Mia's birthday. But I have blogged about this.

The rest of the year feels like a haze of avoiding food and feeling uneasy. I'm exhausted. I think I can say that. I'm exhausted. This year has been exhausting: my (our) own fault really. When you decide to live abroad, away from your family, you build into your life the stress of not having any support. But I have blogged about this.

Can I put the highlights of the year together? What I remember? There are things I always want to say here that I can't, I shouldn't, for various reasons. I live my life too publicly, I don't hold enough close to me. I have, of course, already blogged about this.

2011: The year I stopped sitting down and sleeping? Maybe. The year I wrote and wrote and wrote. How about that? The year I gave up my evolutionary purpose.

2011: The healthiest year ever/ the most unhealthy year ever. The year I realised I can weigh whatever the hell I want and I probably shouldn't try to be what I idealise.

2011: I travelled to the US twice, to Spain, Turkey, Germany, Wales... Not bad.

I can't find my new year's resolutions, but one was about weight (which I kept in theory: the resolution hadn't accounted for fat rather than muscle). Something about being a better person towards my wife and kids. I think I did marginally better there.

2012: I will run a marathon, become a doctor and turn 30. That's enough. No more kids. A likely move, potentially International. I assume that I will just write and write and write.

I want an image from this year. Something to describe it all in one flew swoop. It's not coming to me. I will clean up my desk now, pack things up and maybe walk home instead of riding my bike. That sounds about right. My saddleback bag will be here soon.

20 December 2011

2011, the year of health

I keep trying to write up this big, epic year end blog post and it's not coming yet. I still have things to do before the end of the year. This week will be pivotal (pivotal!) for positioning myself and my writing for next year. So many spatial/movement metaphors! In plain English, please!

I'm doing okay, though. It's Tuesday and I'm getting there.

You know you're a linguist when you use the term 'possessive determiner' in casual conversation to try to explain something.

17 December 2011


Marathon training starts tomorrow (sort of) and I finally caved and bought new shoes. The barefoot thing isn't going to happen when it's just around zero degrees all January and I had put two years of hard running into my other pair. Are my new shoes pink? Yes. Were they on sale? Yes. Weren't there other ones on sale that weren't pink? Yes.

80 minutes tomorrow. Going to count minutes, not miles, to train. Less planning, less thinking. Run 40 minutes one way, run back. Run 50 minutes one way, run back. Run an hour and half one way, run back.

16 December 2011

God is not great

I woke up this morning and it was snowing for the first time: Bon hiver, I thought.

Christopher Hitchens has died. I wanted to cry when I heard: I don't know why. Christopher Hitchens is the sort of atheist I dislike, but the kind of writer I admire: the man's man of writers. Of course, we all knew he was dying. I assumed it would happen and was surprised that it ultimately took so long. Still. Christopher Hitchens is dead.

This week has been extremely difficult, but in the way that you feel stronger having overcome it. My supervisor and I met on Wednesday, and something has happened in our relationship that I can't pinpoint, but has made things remarkably easier. She is really an incredible teacher. So much more to do, so much more to rewrite, rework, rethink, but her investment in the project, in me as an academic, gives me an immense amount of strength.

Yesterday, my classes ended early and I went up to the Tate to finally, finally see the Rothko Seagram murals and... they've been taken down again? What? I couldn't believe it. They'll be back next summer. Maybe I'll never see them...

I've been listening to some of Pitchfork's 50 albums of the year: amazing that we live in a time when we can do this. All music is free and legal? If it's not putting you out of business, it's great. Youth Lagoon's 'The Year of Hibernation' now. Wow.

I have another hint of convergence as I finally am writing up my analysis in the way my supervisors want. I see where it is going. This could very well be done in 8 months. I could very well be a doctor by the end of next year. Should that surprise me? It shouldn't.

I also need some New Year's resolutions. Running the marathon and doing the PhD should be enough. We'll see if there's anything else.

14 December 2011

Remember yesterday...

...when you thought, Hey, I'm almost done with my analysis and going to start writing up at the end of January? Ha. Double ha.

No, no, the pushing back is a bit scary, I'll tell you that, but I do think that I'm not lost, haven't lost my schedule, just yet. I'm going to get there, just not the way I thought. The PhD is like that, I think. You are going to get there, just not the way you thought. The most terrifying word came out today, though: extension. Oh my god, no, god, please no. It wasn't said in a definite way, as in, You'll need to apply to extend your funding. No, it was just hinted at, in relation to my concerns about the future. You might want to think about...

Essentially, there are a few paths my life could take in 2012.

  1. My bid for funding with the ESRC (to work at Lancaster) goes through and I am guaranteed work after my PhD leading to several nested possibilities:
    • I finish my PhD (am examined) by the end of the funding period (September 2012) and have corrections to do starting my job, but I am essentially done.
    • I don't finish my PhD and apply for an extension of my funding at the OU, work for an additional 3 months on my PhD, and start at Lancaster in January, with no gap in funding.
    • I don't finish my PhD on time, don't get funding from the OU and need to:
      • start the job at Lancaster while finishing up my writing on my thesis
      • take one or two unfunded months to finish the PhD before starting
  2. The bid for funding is not successful and I 
    • finish my PhD (am examined) by the end of the funding period (September 2012) and
      • miraculously find work in the UK
      • miraculously find work in Japan or elsewhere in the world starting from October 2012
      • find some sort of work in the States 
    • don't finish my PhD and apply for an extension of my funding at the OU, work for an additional 3 months on my PhD
      • miraculously find work in the UK
      • find work in Japan starting from Spring 2012
      • find some sort of work in the States 
    • don't finish my PhD on time, don't get funding from the OU and need to:
      • take one or two unfunded months to finish the PhD before:
        • who the hell knows.
That was fun to write out.

So. I have a lot to do over Christmas. I thought I was going to take Christmas off. No, that's not going to happen. How determined can I be. Let's please, please, please make this happen on time.

I took a deep breath. I revised my schedule and see that, yes, I can make this happen by the end of January, per my plan. Not worrying is such a challenge. I

12 December 2011

I win

Last night I got my medicine bag.

I wasn't expecting to, actually: I had made what I thought was a low-ball bid on a bag that looks to be about two and half years old. There was no shipping cost on it, so I thought it would surely go up. I went to sleep with two and half hours left and I was the high bidder, but I was at my limit, so I assumed that it would go over at the end. It didn't. I woke up and I had won.

I've been awfully materialistic the last three weeks about this thing: I'm sorry about that, I really am. Watch me make this about something bigger, about growing up and getting wiser and being strong and not just about me getting something I want-stroke-need. Watch me blow it out of proportion.

I've spent all day, every day for the last three plus years thinking about heavy things, professionally and personally. My twenty plus year faith under the microscope, if I'm honest about what I've been doing. I do that all day, trying to make something out of nothing with so little to show for it at this point (this will change by this time next year). And then I've gone home and done my best to care for the wife and kids, but I'm so bad at it: every time I think I have gotten better, I get angry, I make one of my kids cry. They go to bed and 10-15 days out of the month, I go back to work: marking essays or my thesis. It's this never-ending cycle of Maoist self criticism. Ein Hungerkünstler: the hunger artist.

Thinking about this bag has given me this little oasis in my life. Something to think about that has had no consequence: everything else in my life has been full of consequences. I said to my colleague who's just about to finish her PhD this week: no one knows what you've done in the last three years except you. Only you know how hard it was. How strong you are, how you've overcome what you've overcome. This bag, to me, embodies that: it's a symbol, a metaphor for strength. Saddleback bags are heavy and get better as they scar and mature. A five year-old Saddleback bag has a story: it's not slick or elegant, but it doesn't need to be because it came by its maturity honestly. The marks and scars, the ageing of the leather, make it better and better and better.

I bought this bag with my own money: nobody paid for it for me (a metaphor--don't miss the metaphor). Like my tattoo, Resurgam: it's not perfect, but it's imperfection makes it... just that. It makes it.

I'm such an evangelist at heart.

The bag looks to be in good shape, the colour I wanted, a colour they don't actually offer any more. The good thing, I realised about a bag that's a couple of years old (in addition to it being about 60% of the new cost), is that you can see how the leather is going to age. What it's going to look like in the long term. If I were to get a new one, there's some mystery about what it will look like in a couple of years (although probably never bad). No question about that now with an older bag. It has suede lining rather than pigskin, making it softer inside, from what I can tell. You can tell it's a bit older based on where the front rivets are and the front buckle, but still: 100 year warranty (minus 2-3 years).

So I have been successful in acquiring something that I will use everyday for... well, awhile. Pending actually seeing the bag, I am pretty damn excited. I'll put the pictures of it up when I get it (the auction ones were lousy): I might be able to get it before Christmas, but not likely. Probably the 28th or 29th. That's okay. I have the rest of my life.

I promise to stop talking about the bag eventually, don't worry. Making everything material in my life a metaphor for everything immaterial? Well, that is probably not ever going to change. All experience is, after all, embodied.

08 December 2011

Dreaming of a beginning

I was cat-napping on the train on the way in to London today. Not being able to stay awake on the train is driven by my insomnia which is a consequence of bad choices made before going to bed. Like, say, I don't know... Drinking a litre of coffee before going to bed. That would be the main one. Or, upon waking up at 4, 3, or 12:40, eating breakfast and marking essays. No, that doesn't help you sleep. I was complaining that I couldn't sleep to Yoko and she was like, 'Perhaps you shouldn't turn your computer on when you wake up: it's hard to get back to sleep if you do that.'

Yes, I am passively choosing insomnia at this point. Sleep? There's too much going on to sleep. I want to be awake.

So I was cat-napping on the train, and this thought occurred to me: It could all just work out. It's not that crazy actually. All the visa news I've heard is to my favour. The bid at Lancaster could go through. The thesis is on track and being on track with less than a year to go, almost half of a year, is a good sign. We could be in the States for Christmas next year, I thought.

I shouldn't be so surprised.

07 December 2011

An Angel

Dreaming of an end

I had a dream last night that I got in an elevator and pressed down, but the elevator wouldn't go down. It went up instead, to the top floor of a building where no one was. I stepped out of the elevator and suddenly I sensed that everything was ending. It was that moment in a dream when you start to realise that a dream is just a dream, but the end of the dream came before the realisation: I didn't realise I was dreaming until I sat up, fully awake. In the dream, my vision suddenly looked like a failing computer monitor and I thought, I'm dying.

I woke and had these words immediately in my mind, from the linear notes of a Larry Norman album I memorised when I was religious. In it Norman recounts his own waking from a particular dream:
The garden the planet
the land of the sun
past present future
the history's done
each life has three parts
'til the three become one
eternity stretches
for eons to come 
And then I woke up.
And it ends like that too, 'And then I woke up.'

06 December 2011

An unsuccessful morning

I didn't go to work today because Naomi had her Christmas play. It was fantastic (pictures and thoughts on myth, forthcoming), but I was left feeling a bit like I always do when I don't follow my routine: lost. I feel like I have accomplished nothing, but in fact I have, since I woke up at 4 this morning, marked three courseworks; written: a letter for a student, a bunch of e-mails related to another student who is falling way behind and missed another deadline, and a 100 word abstract for a conference; checked my notes on two of 6 videos I need to check, worked on my ESRC bid, and attended Naomi's play.

Still, feeling like I wasn't moving forward, I came to Starbucks. Two cups of coffee for 75p and some hustle and bustle to get me motivated. I am motivated, from here, I intend to get back to my analysis. There is a lot to do, I just need to do it.

Ready? Ready.

05 December 2011

The analytic apparatus

Many of you know that I am currently obsessed with the Saddleback Leather messenger bags. It's funny talking to people about them though, particularly their cost.

Now, I use a bag almost every day of my life, and I have two bags for two different situations: my North Face backpack and a Relic messenger bag that my parents got for me. I probably could survive with just the backpack, if I didn't mind looking like a nine year old going to Catholic primary school when I wear a blazer. The messenger bag is nice, but it's too small and doesn't have a handle on top. It's cloth, gets dirty and needs to match more or less with what you're wearing. You really need to distribute the weight over both shoulders when you're carrying a laptop and two or three books.

If I had one bag that met my needs and looked good (and I was certain what the criteria for those two things were and certain that they were unlikely to change in the short to medium term), I would be set, not just for the next year, but a potentially very long time, if the bag held up. I know what I like and need now, and my needs are unlikely to change in the potential careers I will go into.

So spending even £350 on a bag that meets my needs seems very reasonable to me, particularly if it's going to last and last, particularly if it's exactly what I have wanted, and particularly when all the time it makes everything I wear look better. A Saddleback bag will be iconic, something I am always with and which defines my style in the long term. Like the right pair of glasses. I know what I want, I know who I am: I'm this, not that. A leather messenger bag and rucksack, not a black backpack.

This and not that. I've blogged about it already: I feel secure, suddenly knowing what makes me comfortable in a way that I never have before. Is this what it means to be 30? I love it, I love the hell out of it.

What's the point of getting something cheap if it frustrates you and you're going to have to replace it in three years. I have a long grey overcoat: classic, I've had it for seven years and it looks as good today as it did in 2004, 2007 and 2009. I have a silver Swiss Army watch: classic, Yoko got it for me the year we married and it looks great. Classic. Craftsmanship over entry price point. Stability over acquiring cheaply and quickly.

Back to my point about what all this means. Consumerism keeps the damn economy afloat, but that's about all it does. The economy we've built up doesn't value you getting nice things that last and last. We've split goods up: the rich buy and dispose of nice goods and everyone else buys disposable goods that they can afford in the moment and then replace when they break because we spend all of our money month to month and can't afford nice things when we need them. It encourages us to reinvent ourselves, our style: to avoid the classic style and get this Autumn's style. The turnover of goods, however, doesn't serve you as an individual: it wastes your time, makes you have and deal with shitty things, perpetuates this constant need to acquire, and makes acquiring goods a form of entertainment. What the hell am I doing in the Apple store looking at iPads. I don't need an iPad.

01 December 2011

Daylight Fading

Only two more weeks of coming to London before the end of the year. Just like that.

The end of the year coming should bring a lot of hand-wringing about my thesis, but I think at least at this point, I'm on schedule. I have to do some revisions to my analysis procedure, but I'm not concerned about it. It feels more like saying the same thing in a different, more precise way. I have to make sure all of my terms come from the literature, that I am following a clear process for my analysis. I think I'm going to be able to get there in time, but writing up will bring on a whole new series of stresses, I imagine.

My teaching this year has been such a treat: I have really enjoyed it. The students are some of the best I have had and the classes have been much more relaxing for me than in the past. Maybe the rest of my life has just gotten more hectic... Anyway, the year is almost done: I'm going to blink and things will be finished.

I woke up this morning at 5, the first time that I have slept through the night in I don't know how long. Probably had something to do with my coffee consumption the night before (none). I was emptying the dishwasher and Mei came downstairs and when I saw her, I had this strange thought, That's your daughter. Yes, I have a daughter. I have three. I hugged her and she went back upstairs--this tiny person with a pixie haircut who is one half me and one half Yoko. My daughter--my daughters. All three of them were in our bed later as I got dressed for work. Small, medium, and large. Daddy look at this; daddy where are you going. Daddy, daddy, daddy. 

Naomi is in a school play that I will attend on Tuesday. I will finish my analysis notes: supervision on the 12th. Marking until then. Last class at Middlesex on the 15th. I am going to shift things around on that day so I can go buy the headphones (provided I finally make a choice, lose my bidding on this Saddleback bag and/or acquire some other expected funds between now and then, and can justify it to myself) and ride the underground to the Tate and sit in the Rothko room for a little while for the first time. A fitting end to the year. I did my best this year, didn't I? I hope that I did.

28 November 2011

Monday morning frost

The weather in Milton Keynes calls for the XX to be played on repeat until further notice. The winter in Milton Keynes encourages hibernation, and I fight it through Christmas, but come January, I will give in and allow myself the selfish pleasure of depression. Depression is a metaphor. I find it harder to be depressed the older I get. I'm becoming a better pair of headphones, more balanced, representing reality better without the high highs and high lows. I'm a more balanced EQ.

I read the reviews for the earbuds I have, by the way (skip this paragraph if you're uninterested in talk of headphones). And they accurately describe all the problems I have had with them. Don't isolate, fall out of your ears, represent bass well, but need to be turned up to do so. Aren't great for walking or running. Aren't worth the cost. They are, however, Bose earbuds.

I read the news about Black Friday, all the people crawling all over each other trying to get cheap things, and after having my moment of liberal elite reflection about Capitalism, the underclass, and all the problems in the world, I remembered fondly a particular time in my life when my brother and sister and I were a bit older and would shop over the holidays with my mother. We would go to Hawthorne Center, the more upscale mall in the area, and get lunch and coffee and walk around. There was so little to worry about: I didn't have to drive, I didn't have to pay for anything, I bought gifts for like three or four people, I ate what I wanted, and that was it. This is nostalgia, I thought.

Jay-Z made a good comment about hip hop in an interview I recently heard on Fresh Air on NPR. When you listen to hip hop, you need to remember that the rapper got popular when they were relatively young, Jay-Z reminds us. They get popular and don't have normal relationships anymore, so when they rap about relationships, about women, about violence, about sex, they are rapping about adolescent fantasy. How many thirty year old rappers are there? Tyler the Creator is suddenly all over, everywhere, and his normal experience as a person ostensibly ended before he turned 20. Everything from here on out will be reliving what he did when he was in his teens and the imaginary world that has been constructed around him. And there is no incentive to change what he raps about: it's about money now. Biggie was 24 when he died. 24. Tupac was 25. You hear Biggie rapping about having kids and hustling to support them and you gotta remember he was like 20. Something to think about, at least.

Another thing that my PhD has ruined/enhanced: everything that comes through my brain must go through the analytic sieve. What would Foucault say. What would Bakhtin say. How does this one instance, this tiny stability, fit into a larger system. Where is the larger system coming from, where is it going.

Boy, do I like the new Florence and the Machine album. It's the delay on the tom-toms in a couple of the songs. The first one in particular. Another good album that needs to have a balanced EQ to be fully enjoyed, I imagine.

Don't think, please, that I can't shut my eyes and let it wash over me. Awareness of the metaphor heightens it: it does not diminish it.

27 November 2011

Good* Headphones

I've been learning all about headphones the last two weeks, as I am in the market to get a pair. I was originally looking at the SRH750DJs, but I think I've been dissuaded. Basically, it comes down to what criteria one uses to establish the category of a 'good' pair of headphones. I think this is, as far as I can tell from my reading, the expert description of a good pair of headphones:
Headphones which accurately represent the original mix of the music clearly and evenly at the broadest frequency range. They are balanced and represent the sound the same way regardless of volume.
So, when someone says, 'I want headphones with really good bass,' you can tell that they probably don't know much about headphones and you will probably be able to sell them a pair of Dre Beats. They have 'good bass' that is actually not so good.

This PhD has ruined my life. I want headphones, so I formed a research question, did a literature review, did some data collection, and then made a decision about what I would buy. I swear to god, I'm not a Positivist. I'm a Pragmatist--a William James Pragmatist, not a Barack Obama pragmatist--who trusts procedural objectivity.

This accuracy bit is really a new thought to me. Good headphones let you hear the way the song was actually mixed (i.e., the way the artist has, in theory, wanted you to hear it) and if you have a headphone that skews towards the DJ smile (high lows and high highs with a depressed middle), you reinterpret the sound, perhaps to your preference, perhaps not. If you are listening to a Fleet Foxes song, you don't want to have overpowering bass: you want to hear it clearly in balance to the amazing harmonies that are happening across the frequency scale. Worse, if you enjoy some Biggie every now and then, the bass is so pronounced in the mix already that if you put on a headphone that represents the bass too powerfully, you get an unpleasant experience full of distortion. You want Biggie to kick down the door, but you don't want him to kick it down in a way that injures the person on the other side.

This is an extended metaphor: is it a story or a scenario? I suppose it's a story: it has two events--Biggie kicks down the door and injures someone.

I've always thought of Bose headphones as the best, but they aren't: they are the best for a particular category of people who have money. They want something they describe as a great headphone: comfortable and which makes the music they listen to sound good, along with a bunch of other criteria that have nothing to do with sound (portability, isolation, style).

Emic words describe the world  of particular experience, not exact, precise, replicable things. The Positivist throws out the emic terms: they aren't reliable, they differ so much among people. The Positivist, however, sells no headphones because those emic terms determine who buys what. The world is a complicated place, it turns out: much more often unreliable.

For me, portability, durability, price, and isolation are also important criteria, but again, they are different questions than the sound of the headphone. I also want a headphone that's classic, not stylish. The Beats look 'great' today (if 'great' is whatever everyone else is into at the moment), break tomorrow. I also want ones that aren't going to fall apart in two years, right after the manufacturer warranty is up. And I want good sound at low levels on the underground and none of this sound-cancelling apparatus crap (who wants to carry around AAA batteries anyway). I want them to sound good at work, walking to Middlesex, on the train, and on the underground.

So, I think it's the Sennheiser HD25-ii (basic edition) for me. A bit pricey, and that's what's holding me back. But if I use them for ten years, well, it will be worth it, I think. The guy at the store turned me on to them. Twisting the headband he says, 'The Shures have replacement earpads and cables, but it's the hinges that break. The hinge breaks and you're screwed.' The Sennheiser's have a little bit of smile, but not overwhelming. I, after all, like 'good bass' myself. They're not reference headphones, but they're close enough and I am not actually a professional so it doesn't matter that much. They isolate well and they're about half the weight of the other DJ headphones I tried. All the parts are also user replaceable so when I do break them, I'm not screwed. They aren't stylish, which means (I suppose, but am not sure of) they are less likely to be stolen. They are, however, classic. Iconic. Like Ray Ban Wayfayers and Levis. Right up my alley. They're on ear as opposed to over ear, but I think they're more comfortable because they're so light.

Now, to convince myself that they're actually worth it and I can justify the cost to myself.

23 November 2011

Deutschland for Empathy, Day 4

Well, the trip is winding up:  I'm on my way out of the city to get to the airport for a 17:00 flight. Now, I am sitting in Starbucks outside of Stadmitte station, having some coffee and reflecting. I had a cookie too. I can have a cookie now.

Berlin: livable, extremely livable. Polite, clean, German. Cold, but people are still sitting outside. Christmas began here: you get the sense that everything we try to do in the States and England is just mimicking what they do here. They do it properly here. Christmas markets. Grog. The carols sound proper in German. They should, you suspect, be sung in German all the time, by everyone.

It has been another good trip for me: far less stressful than the trip to NYC, thanks mostly to the fact that I was staying in a real hotel and the trip was not funded from my research budget, but my supervisor's, so there were no money concerns either.

The meetings of the Empathy(2) Network were good, but more importantly, I had a supervision meeting yesterday evening that really was one of the best we have ever had. I am finishing my analysis, my findings are coming together and I have the beginnings of what will be my actual thesis, rather than what I have imagined it to be. The next steps are clear, we are discussing finishing the analysis by Christmas and beginning (!) writing up in January. I didn't fight: I tried to listen. No resistance: you are riding a bicycle for the first time and suddenly the person holding you up has let go. I wasn't sure how this would be, but I see the end of the road. The light at the end of the tunnel. Choose your scenario. My supervisor says, You can take Christmas off. Can I? I'm not sure that I can.

Build this up, she said, gesturing up from the paper. A construction metaphor. Writing is building. You build up, not out. Findings are a base.

The end. It's strange to imagine. My supervisor says to me yesterday about what I had presented her: this is pretty much done now. Done!? I haven't heard that yet. If that part is done... that's a big part. My colleague says to me, Well, you would hope that things would start to wrap up. Yes. You would hope that. But I didn't expect it to happen.

I should stop writing and go back to walking. There is so much to see in this world.

21 November 2011

Deutschland for Empathy, Day 2

What a fabulous day. Listened to my supervisor talk for like four hours and was like, once again, I am lucky, lucky, LUCKY to be her student. Precise, careful, systematic scholar with big, important ideas. I feel invigorated again about my own research. All the sorts of things you want from a conference/seminar.

Also ran barefoot on a treadmill last night:
12.5 km in 60:16

Felt great, but I woke up this morning with a massive blood blister on my right foot big toe. Oh well: will run shoe-d tomorrow.

20 November 2011

Deutschland for Empathy

My International travels continue today with a trip out to Deutschland for a series of meetings for my supervisor's 'Empathy Network' which should probably be 'EmpathyNetwork' (Pragmatics joke, sorry, move along). Anyway, hopefully will have the WiFi at the hotel. If not, I'll be back around Wednesday night. 

18 November 2011

Personal style

One of the great things about growing up is settling into a style. Once you know what you like and looks good on you, you can simplify, simplify, simplify and stop effing around with stuff that you have, but aren't really committed to: I'm wearing this but I haven't really thought about it. Levi's 30 x 30 slim straight jeans, well-cut dress shirts (oxfords, preferably, but not required), small slim sweaters, and brown shoes. That's all I need day-to-day. Add a suit, a pair of khakis, and two or three blazers? And I'm done.

And it's an exactitude too: a category of style that (to me) says young, stylish intellectual. PhD, not MA. Clean shaven, not bearded. Slim straight, not skinny. Tailored, not slim. European cut, not American. Levis, not H&M. Classic, not fashionable. 77 kgs, not 72.Vintage, not thrift store. Shure studio headphones, not Dre Beats. Pragmatism, not idealism.

I proudly showed Yoko my wardrobe (British closet) the other day. I can wear all of this. She wasn't really impressed, but to me it was a proud moment of self realisation. And now I can acquire things that I want to keep for a lifetime and avoid things that I will keep for a short amount of time. Like the Saddleback Leather bag which I continue to obsess about. I'll get it and use it for the rest of my life. Or a good pair of headphones instead of an iPhone. These, not those. I couldn't say that at 22.

This is a metaphor for growing up. The better you get at saying this and not that. I know now.

I had a moment of sheer panic the other day when I heard about someone being held up for a visa based on claiming a public benefit (one that I claim) that they shouldn't apparently have been claiming. The benefit office had checked their documents and ruled that they should have received the benefit, but the border agency had a different opinion. Disagreement between government agencies, and the applicant is held responsible. Anyway, I did my best to confirm that their situation was different than ours and we should, in fact, be receiving the benefit that we are receiving: we are, something about Japanese/US citizenship, but the border agency could have a different opinion, particularly as they are looking for ANY reason to reduce immigration. Makes me nervous and terribly, terribly apprehensive about making an application. At the same time, at least I know to send more supporting documents when we apply next year.

For all interested passengers

I don't do a lot of book reviews (given a horrible experience with a huge book in a field that I had no business reviewing in), but this one came out okay, I think:

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2011) [Review of the book American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides by Robert Putnam and David Campbell]. Youth and Policy 107: 116-117. Available online at: <http://www.youthandpolicy.org/images/stories/journal107/reviews107.pdf

14 November 2011

I believe I can fly

I showed this to my daughters and Mei just clapped and clapped. I think base jumping is in her future. She's been spending the evening pretending she can fly. Another trip to the A&E will probably result from this but hey, at least they both now know they can fly.

Jump start blogging

That dull feeling of uneasiness after you send something off to your supervisors and then you wait is something I'm never going to get used to. They tell me that the next steps are mine to take, mine to decide--that there is no right or wrong way to do this. I never feel that way though. I feel unease, constant unease.

Perhaps this is because I am not sleeping. I woke at 12-something, 2-something, and 5-something last night. Baby crying? Who's in bed with me? Have I turned on the washing machine?

More bizarre things are happening, I'm sure, other places in the world.

Accidental poetry

I copied and pasted a quote and this is what came out.

By  designating
the  cultural  as  arbitrary, Bourdieu  reverses  the  normal  perception  of
things,  which  is  that  the  sacred  objects  of  high  culture  are  such  because  of  some
intrinsic  to  them.  From  this  essentialist  point  of view
they  deserve  their place
and  their  veneration  because  of
something  about  them  that  is
'real'-they  really  are
beautiful  in the way
that knowledge
is really
(and so really
is knowledge).  This,
fact,  Bourdieu  argues,
is an illusion.

13 November 2011

Alpha Pi

Morris Louis here provides a metaphor: convergence is inevitable, if only for a moment out of view.

11 November 2011

29 and some change

 I'm 29 years old. I don't feel 29.

Tonight, my eldest daughter (I have an eldest daughter) came home from a birthday party in a dress, wearing makeup, and having her hair done. She smelled nice too. Really? I thought.  I have to start dealing with this now? She's 4.

Parenting is hard for a lot of reasons, but this hardship is the result of trying to make what I believe fit in the context of what the society I live in believes and what my spouse believes. I don't believe that 4 year olds, even when playing 'dress up' (which they do a hell of lot in this country), should wear makeup. Sorry. But I live in a context where, at birthday parties, little girls do this. I have a couple of choices:
  1. Get the hell out of dodge and isolate myself and my family in the woods somewhere to avoid the influence of the outside world. Being neither a hippie nor a Fundamentalist religious type, this is not a possibility.
  2. Not let my daughter go to the parties. A good idea in theory, but much more likely to have a negative effect on her than wearing makeup every so often.Oh, we don't invite Naomi to parties--her dad won't let her go. Yeah, no: I'm not that guy.
  3. Let her go, but don't let her do the makeup. Same problem as number three, though, really. You don't want to be that parent.
  4. Let her go, let her do what everyone else is doing, and try to talk some sense into her when she comes home. A good idea, but how does that conversation start: Honey, the problem with you wearing makeup is that it encourages you to think of yourself as something to be observed rather than an agent in your own right. You might think it's great to have people looking at you and admiring your beauty, but think about your agency in that situation: do you really want to be object rather than subject? The result of that is a culture in which men assert control and power because you become an object to be admired and acquired, not a subjective individual, a signal heteroglot exerting, an albeit tiny amount of, pressure on the larger system. And by the way, all men want is sex. 
  5. Move to some posh neighborhood where the influence of the kids around us will be upwardly mobile and, even though they do put on makeup, the sea swell of the peers will be towards A-levels and University as opposed to... well, not.
Ugh. None of these options look great. I'm an academic and we will probably, for the foreseeable future, be living in lower cost housing, so number 5 is out. 1-3 is out too because I don't have the energy to be that much of an activist. I guess I've settled on 4. Who knows if it will work.

I'm 29. I want to purchase two things really badly for myself: some kick ass headphones and this Saddleback leather bag, but the cost of everything in this country is going up and we are making no more money this year than last. I can work part time, but who knows if the Euro-zone will explode in the next week? Month? Two months? I have to think about these things, can't just drop £400 on (even really useful, needed) toys. Hell, I can hardly buy clothes for myself when I need them without thinking, do I really need this. I have to think about keeping these four people that depend on me in clothes that fit, first: happy and health.
I'm only 29. I thought back to 2008-2009 with nostalgia today: I couldn't believe it. The worst year of my life and I sort of wanted to go back. We only had one kid then. The apartment was so much smaller. We spent less on food. There was no pressure from the PhD: I was lost, yes, but it didn't matter.

Oprah tells us to count our blessings. Nana and Mei still are happy to kiss me goodnight. I like that quite a bit... 

I came home from work the other day and there was a tear in my undershirt, so I was going throw it out, but before I did, I called the girls into the lounge and told them to watch carefully. They both stood there and I suddenly tore the shirt from the middle like Superman. Nana was non-plussed, just completely aghast. Why did you DO that? She was so shocked and I just laughed and laughed and laughed. I'm SUPERMAN! I said.

I'm only 29. 

One day at a time

09 November 2011

Things I learned in Philly

Everytime I hang out with B, I learn a bunch of stuff from him and in conversation with him:

  • Grooveshark is like Spotify, only freer
  • Organic food is crap
  • Solving uncomfort problems on a bike requires adjustment of seat
  • Live where you live, don't live one place and drive to another. If you can't cycle there, you're too far away.
  • If you're going to believe something, believe it 100% and stop trying to pretend that you aren't who you are
  • The dominant culture doesn't think about retaining itself because it is unopposed and perpetuates itself unobstructed while consuming the bits of minority cultures it finds useful; minority cultures struggle to not be consumed, and this appears to the dominant culture as aggressive and oppositional (bell hooks, Eating the Other, anyone?) 
  • Say what you want about Occupy Wall St., protest puts pressure on the apparatus and bends it, however slightly, towards the concerns of the oppressed (Things I learned from myself: Hippies will protest anything, all the time, given the opportunity)
  • Call your wife before you buy expensive tequila, but make sure you married someone who knows you well enough to say yes without hesitating
  • Have friends who say, upon drinking the expensive tequila, Oh wow, there's a lot going on in there.
  • Have friends that challenge you
Things I learned from B's friends:
  • You can say about tequila, Oh wow, there's a lot going on in there
  • Headphones don't get a lot better after $150
  • Onesies can, in very, very limited circumstances, be worn by adults, but you must have a beard
  • Do what you're paid to do, but try to influence the people who are paying you
  • Michelle Bachmann needs to spend a month in B's house with his friends before she says anything about anything
  • It's okay to shop at Trader Joe's: the whole point is that it's ironic
  • Cycling is a culture, not transportation
  • Cycling is transportation, not culture: get what you need, not what makes you look good
  • You can share everything and be much happier

08 November 2011

Time is/is not on your side

Time, why you punish me. I won't lie, Hootie and the Blowfish taught my young Evangelical mind about a lot of things.

My week usually starts with a flurry of things I have to do: e-mails to respond to, drafts of things to check from various people, teaching stuff, PhD admin stuff, funding bid stuff... Very practical things for the most part. After I clear through those things, I am back to the place where I started: my PhD looking up at me.

Hello, I say.
Hello, my PhD says.
What have you been up to over the weekend?
My PhD shrugs.
Well, I guess we gotta, you know, get back at this.
I guess we do, my PhD says, lackadaisically.

This will change in the next 6 weeks when I start writing. Or I start to reorganise my writing. Or maybe it won't.

I mentioned that I cleared out my closet the other day and my acquisition of some new sweaters. I also got a haircut. Wearing clothes that fit properly, for some strange reason, really makes me feel much better. When I'm not swimming around in a sweater in particular. I feel much more narrow. Better cut. The 30 x 30 jeans really help too. You wouldn't think two inches less on the waist would make that much difference. It does. It makes me think I might be able to wear a pair of khaki trousers, if I wanted.

If I wanted. It's good to be able to see needs and wants for what they are. Khakis are, unfortunately, probably inching towards the needs side. I only have three pairs of jeans that fit. I can get away with this until I need to interview for a job.

Mei was in the hospital again on Sunday night. Fell down, again. Cut her face, again. Yoko took her, which was great for me, hard for Yoko. I was really happy: Yoko is really functional now in the UK. It makes things much easier for all of us. Anyway, Mei is fine. Got the cut glued up: she didn't need to go necessarily, but the face is an important place to get cleaned up.

I love the hell out of Mei's personality, despite how often she falls down. She's so funny. I love all of them, of course, but Mei makes me laugh. Where did she learn that? It's funny how you admire the bad personality traits of your kids sometimes. Mei exacts violence on her sister in a way that, although I dislike/discourage, I have some respect for. She will not be screwed with and she will not whine or cry or complain (sometimes): she will just take a swing. Knives out. If she can hone that skill...

Naomi is much more diplomatic most of the time. She will cry and whine and whine and cry continuously without any sense that her complaints are not getting her anywhere. She pouts. It takes her a long time to get violent: she will complain to me or Yoko first, Mei is hitting me!

She is friends with everyone though: diplomatic.

Kids, man. Kids.

Okay, back to work. Back. To. Work.

06 November 2011

Cleaning out my closet

So I'm on a cleaning out my closet kick. Haven't worn you in a year? Out! Too big? Out! Right size, but stretched out (in some places) and/or shrunk (in other places) because I've had you for more than three years? Out!

The truth is I am now a small who wears 30/30s. If I wear anything else, I look like an idiot. I have all these clothes that people have given me that I hate, but keep for whatever reason. No more!

Today, I went to TK Maxx and spent £19.99 x 3 on Rochas cotton sweaters that are normally £70 a piece. Blue, black, grey. Problem solved. They look great and I don't have to worry about this for a couple of years.

The next and last bag I get will be a saddleback leather business bag. I am in love with this. The best thing about them is doing a search for them on eBay and seeing that bags, used for five years are still selling for 80-95% of the cost of a new one. Crazy. That's quality.

At some point, you look at your dataset and you go, I have nothing else to say about this.

02 November 2011

Welcome home

The immigration official in the US says this to you when you return: Welcome home. Thanks, I always say, the same series of thoughts chasing me as I leave to pick up my bag.

The trip to New York was a complete, unmitigated success, from beginning to end, with the small exception of my health. Each meeting I had was full of rich, careful, deep discussions about the things most important to me, and people I respect a great deal were incredibly generous to me with their time and resources. The audiences for my presentations were engaged and thoughtful, asking great questions. I couldn't have asked for better people to meet and talk with.

The success, I should say, was not expected. I ran into this trip playing the ultimate confidence man. I booked my flight before anything was confirmed. All the meetings and presentations were ones that I initiated. It was far too much of my research budget. It wasn't focused enough on my current research. It was at the wrong time, it turned out... A litany of problems.

But all of those problems seemed to fall away, little by little. The conversations stayed on my current work and how it will relate to my future work. Most importantly for me, I saw a path that would lead me out of Applied Linguistics and into (an empirical, rigorous, research-driven brand of) Religious Studies, potentially at a high-level university or college in the States. I remembered that I love the liberal arts college and would be very happily at home in the East Coast of the US, working at a smallish 4 year private institution that placed a heavy emphasis on staff research. To make this happen (I was told and I agree wholeheartedly with), I would need to find a department that values textual analysis and sees a need to incorporate empirical research into their curriculum. I could teach core classes on religion without any problem and then teach classes on New Atheism and Evangelicalism as my specialties, all from an applied linguistic/social sciences perspective. That is, the texts shaping the communities and the communities shaping the texts, seen in analysis of the reading of the text within the community. This is essentially the kind of research I have been wanting to do. And the Religious Studies departments value books over articles, another thing I am much more keen on. Articles are okay, but I would rather be putting out a book every two years than three or five articles. The creative writer in me.

So, my three to five year plan gets a little clearer. I think I will be more and more eager to try and make the Religious Studies angle work because of how interesting it is to me, and how many more options it gives to me.

I liked what I saw of the East Coast. Public transit is much better than the Midwest. Things are closer together. The buildings are older. I don't know--I could see my family living there.

Friends, B & L, took me in for the weekend in Philly and let me relax, let go of all my responsibilities for about 48 hours. It was amazing. I didn't know what to say. B and I were at a market on Saturday afternoon: I was sipping coffee and waiting for B's number to be called by the Amish cheese seller that he was trying to buy honey from. There was nothing for me to do. No one to care for, nothing to worry about. I just stood there, freed. We went to a Bike expo, Trader Joe's, two parties, a church service, the whole time talking about all the things that friends need to catch up on after not being together for two years. When you can answer the question, how are you doing honestly and carefully over several hours stroll through Manhattan. I felt as though I was being carried the whole time.

I said that this was a success provided you didn't consider my health. I didn't sleep the whole time I was in the States and I had a very, very difficult time eating. When I was around other people, I ate well and carefully, but when I was alone, I obsessed about it constantly, like I was trying with all my might to avoid some imaginary past version of myself who I don't think actually ever existed. Ultimately, I did okay--it was just harder than it needed to be.

And the sleep. The hostel was nice enough (cheap), but I was unable to rest well there. When I got to the hotel on Thursday, I did okay, but I was paranoid that I would miss my cab in the morning at 6:15 (the wake-up call, predictably, wasn't made). We were caught in the rain/snow on Saturday, and by the time I got onto the plane on Sunday night, I was shivering horribly, complicated by my ears being unable to adjust to the pressure. I slept and slept upon getting back to MK, switching out bedsheets and t-shirts as I soaked them in sweat.

I woke up this morning feeling just as bad, but willed myself to work as I needed to prepare for my classes tomorrow. The shower and new clothes, followed by lots of cold, flu, and pain drugs, snapped me out of it and I am feeling about 85% now.

In spite of my sickness, I found out today that the metaphor association I am a member of accepted (most of) my application to cover the cost of the flights, so I have still only used half of my research budget. Not sure what I will do with the rest, but it's nice to still have.

I came home to my family, too. My little world that I always feel I abandon when I leave. You get the sense that things are a bit different when Dada isn't around. I'm back now and normalcy resumes. Dada doesn't put up with crying; Dada wants you to put away your toys now, not later.

What lies ahead is anyone's guess. I'm happy to have had the experience, and see, if only for a moment, another reality. Another potential reality.

29 October 2011


Occupy Wall St.

Disappointing. Separation of church and state goes both ways. Americans don't need more hippies: they need jobs. That's all.
New York

27 October 2011

Empire State

This trip has gone very well so far. Surprisingly well. I found myself up here, talking about the myth of New York and the momentum of love with a YouTube informant turned good friend. Bizarre? Yes. Serendipitous? Yes. Now, to Connecticut.

23 October 2011

American goes to America

Tomorrow, I head out to the US for the week. My itinerary, if I fall off the face of the earth and they have to come looking for me:

Monday: 18:00 flight from LHR to Newark, staying at the Gershwin Hotel on 27th St.
Tuesday: Giving two short presentations at Hofstra University on Long Island
Wednesday: 'Meetings' (coffee, drinks, meals) from 14:00 to late-ish
Thursday: Travel by Amtrak to Berlin, CT and then to Middletown to present at Wesleyan University at 16:15, I think. Stay overnight at a cheap hotel in Middletown
Friday: Early train from Berlin to Penn Station, spend day with Berto, Bus/Train to Philly
Saturday: Philly all Day
Sunday: Philly in the morning, bus/train back to NYC and flight out of NJ at 23:00

So. Donald Glover has wisely said, 'If you aren't scared, you aren't doing anything special.' I hope he's right.

19 October 2011

Talk about Atlas.TI

Here I am talking about my research methods and use of the qualitative analysis software Atlas.TI. Enjoy.

17 October 2011

Huaraches II

These appear to be much, much more durable than my other ones. Thanks Ikea!

16 October 2011

Mid-October Run

14.49km 1:19:59 5:31min/km 1062kCal

Just a bit of sprinting in there too. Going to push it to 20 next weekend, I think. We'll see.

14 October 2011

Making time to blog

It's been a busy week: it's Friday now and I don't know where the time has gone. Going back to Middlesex once a week (yesterday, for the first time) is really nice: I can clear my head, engage with the students, think about other things. We seem to have a really good group of students this year--a really good mix and people who like to talk which is really important and really makes my life much, much easier. It's a long day for me, but I come back feeling refreshed. I just need to make sure that I don't lose my Fridays, but I have the virtual writer's retreat where I write for two and half hours on Friday morning, so that should help.

I made a difficult, but ultimately essential decision, about the scope of my thesis this week, decided to cut out 2/3 of what I had intended to do and focus, instead, on the 1/3 that I know the best and that is the most clearly developing at this point. It sounds more drastic than it is: ultimately it will mean losing two analytic frameworks and using only one on the data. The problem, I think, was that I was trying to bite off more than I can chew in terms of my analysis. There is more than enough to look at in the metaphor analysis. I need to do that well.

I'm a bit frustrated that it's come to this, to be frank, because I have spent this year chasing after all these ideas that are not really going to come to fruition in the final project, but I suppose the point is: that's the point. The PhD is about figuring this sort of thing out. Trying ideas, failing, and trying new things. In metaphorical terms, I think I flown too far from the mother duck in terms of my analysis. I need to come back to metaphor as the beginning  middle, and end of my analysis. I came here to study metaphor. My supervisor is a world class metaphor scholar. My primary analysis has been on metaphor. Why not write a thesis about metaphor? Seems clear enough.

So categories and impoliteness, although I will still be talking about them a bit, will not play a key role in my analysis.

I should say, I have written this all up in an e-mail to my supervisors that I will send in 4 hours, after reworking what I did for them last week. If they say yes, we move forward. And I can finally, finally, FINALLY start to build on the work that I've been doing and stop having everyone month be a new idea that distracts me and makes my supervision team think, Well, he doesn't have any idea what he's talking about.

In other news, from the post below about being less angry, I finally had a good week of this: Yoko and I have a real live date tonight, with dinner and coffee and no (well, probably no, likely no) kids. Just us. I can't believe it.

Finally, I had my first parent-teacher meeting ever where I was the parent, not the teacher. It was strange: I felt like I was pretending a bit (You know, I made this child, but I don't really feel like a parent. Is that okay?). Naomi likes to write and read, her teacher says: she seems very bright and likes structure. In a month, they will begin doing real work where they have to sit and work on projects for an extended period of time, and the teacher thinks Naomi will like this, because she likes having things just so. And her English is fine, she has friends, and enjoys herself.

I breathed a sigh of relief at all of this. My pursuit of my dream has resulted in normalcy for my wife and at least one of my daughters. That's something. I can sleep a little bit more soundly. Well, not until the thesis is turned in. And I have a permanent job... And, and, and. I'll sleep soundly when I'm dead.

10 October 2011

Stephen, father

Last Thursday was the worst day of the year. I can't go into it: I need to press on, forget and move forward. Move forward. Move forward.

After I picked a fight with my wife for the umpteenth time on Tuesday, I realised I can do this the easy way, or I can do this the hard way. The hard way is to continue to be angry, frustrated, and immolated by this project and take all my anger and insecurity home and saddle it on my wife and kids. Or I can make my home a refuge, the place where I am not angry, where my supervisor's criticism of me (which is perfectly apt and driving me, driving me, driving me to excellence) doesn't touch me. Where I am safe because I choose to be safe, and happy because I choose to be happy. I don't want my kids to remember me as angry and short with them.

So. We went to the Monkey Forest this weekend. And I wasn't angry. I was a little bit, sometimes, but I tried hard to let it go. And it was nice. Really, really nice. Look at how much of a father I am:
Work has come through at Middlesex for the year. I start on Thursday. I have no time for anything: parent/ teacher conferences on Wednesday (as the parent not the teacher) classes Thursday, PhD writing due Friday, Lancaster proposal on Monday, Mei to the hospital on Monday, Middlesex again on Thursday (PhD analysis notes all the time I'm not sleeping), prepare for trip, flight to NYC on Monday, presentation Tuesday, meetings Wednesday, to CT and back for presentation on Thursday, to Philly on Friday, back to NYC on Sunday, back to England, Monday, writing due for PhD on Friday.

I will survive, as long as I know how to love. It will be over in 295 days.

09 October 2011

Huaraches tear

10.63km 54:19 5:04min/km 783 kCal

My pace is good, but my huaraches tore. I need to get a thicker sole, I think. Otherwise I felt great. They really just tore in the last couple 100 meters. A good time to tear, if they're going to tear.

Otherwise, folks, I'm swamped. Really, really swamped. Expect things to quiet down a bit here for the next... Well, 10 or 15 years I would guess...

04 October 2011

Running on huaraches

5:45AM 8.83km 1:00:02 6:47min/km 664 kCal

Well, I did my first barefoot run on huaraches. No pain the whole time, but I was very, very cautious at the beginning (hence the awful time). I sprinted a little in the middle and that felt okay. The sandals/ barefoot running can really make you aware of where you are putting your weight when you strike. You end up putting very little weight on your heel, particularly when you're sprinting. This stresses the ankle and calf more and I suspect I will really feel that tomorrow. But it's the beginning of something, I think. Something good.

Marathon Training

Well, I'm not really planning on doing much training for the marathon, but one of the things I would like to do is do some of the running barefoot/in huaraches. Why? Well, first, I'm a sucker for any sort of trend, we can just say that. But actually, the barefoot running I've done so far, I've really liked and had the sense that I need to break into it for it to be really comfortable. Moreover, I like the idea of having a natural gait and not putting excess strain on my joints as running shoes let you get away with more than you should, or so the story goes. Also, I like being barefoot in general, and this fits that aesthetic, outlook.

Anyway, it's what, 5:05AM now--I've been up for like an hour waiting to go out and try the huaraches I made last night from a doormat. They aren't great: I need a better rubber sole, but when I tried them a little last night, I was quite happy. Gonna do just 4 klicks today to see how my legs feel. Little-by-little on these puppies. Ideally, I will train with them 50% of the time, with a focus on the gait, and when I have to put shoes back on (it's going to get cold, apparently), then I can keep up the gait. For what it's worth, they feel great as shoes and I think I will make a nicer pair just to wear around.
This is supposed to be helping keep my mind off of the PhD too, by the way. It's working so far. I sent in my notes on my metaphor analysis yesterday, but before I did that, I got my progress report notes from my supervisor saying that I was on track to make my goal of 1 August submission. If I'm on track with less than 10 months to go, this is a very, very good sign. Obviously, a long way to go, but every day it's a little bit less, right? 302 days.

03 October 2011


Well, the time has come. My dad finished a marathon yesterday. Maths-literate younger sister the year before. Famed older brother has been running them forever. And now. Me.

30 September 2011

Third PhD Year

The third year of my PhD starts tomorrow, a Saturday. On 1 October 2012, there is, I suppose, some chance that I could be a fourth year PhD student, but probably not a funded one. Coming into the third year of the PhD, people around me have been introspective. Me being always introspective, I suppose I welcome the excused chance to reflect and look forward at the same time. So. Let's reflect.
  • Academically, the second year of the PhD was quiet, I suppose, but it was a year of binding, if that makes sense: pulling together data and ideas and analysis and starting to try to tell a story. I assembled my first draft of my thesis and quickly disassembled it: my supervisors say I keep showing them broken iterations of the thesis machine when they want me to show them my work on the thesis machine. I'm doing that now, but the process of trying to put the whole thing together was good, I believe. Like a batting cage, like a driving range--sports metaphors. Something you do outside of the game in preparation for the game.
  • In my professional development as an academic, I have made some progress I guess, but until next year and I see how the things I've done develop, saying I moved forward significantly is difficult. Time will tell. I will say, however, that getting together with Jonathan and Elena to write this bid could be the next biggest thing that happens to me in terms of my career. I'm happy to have cycled through again from wanting to stay to wanting to go to wanting to go (have a) home and back again. I think I need that in my career: time to think through all my options and consider what it is I want, professionally. If I can get money to answer the questions I want in the way that I want to... I think that's what I will pursue as long as I can. And that, to be clear, could be well into my thirties.
Of course, we will have to see. All I have to go on at this point is the past. And the past tells me that if I keep my head down, keep working and doing a little more and a little more, eventually the light will find me or I will find the light or whatever metaphorical conceptualisation works for you. I put a PhD submission ticker on this page, ticking down to 1 August 2012, 12PM when I plan and hope to submit.

God bless the Indian Summer

Cloudy Mountains

Cloudy Mountains Fa Ruozhen (Chinese, 1613–1696)
Period: Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Date: 1684 Culture: China
Medium: Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk
Dimensions: 54 1/8 x 27 3/8 in. (137.5 x 69.5 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 2010
Accession Number: 2010.54

27 September 2011

New students, old students

The Open University, being a non-traditional university, has no undergraduates studying on campus, making the beginning of the Autumn term a bit muted: no influx of very young people looking confused and unfettered and full of strange and optimistic visions of the future. Instead, the OU has a very small uptick in new graduate students, a much, much different sort of animal than the new undergraduate. Let me explain.

I had to return some books to the library today and walking back, I stopped into the refectory, and I noticed a few of the new students, or imagined that I did. New postgraduate students at the OU are not young, in general, but they are younger than the rest of the people at the University. In outlook, in dress, in optimistic aura. They have backpacks and are holding coffees and looking around expectantly, like something is about to happen. Lots of them have left careers, some have been quite successful, and they have let go of that. They have rolled the dice and come here to try something else. Optimism, but trepidation as well: what if this was the wrong thing?

Watch me read my experience onto everyone around me. I felt that way, I look at them and I imagine them feeling the same way. Look at all the trepidation and hope:
Well, if my experience can be read onto them, I can say this: don't worry new students, in three years you'll be less optimistic, more confused, angry, and bitter, but certainly, certainly will not want to have taken the choice back. You're doing the right thing: you would have always wondered about this path if you had stayed back. You would be ashamed of your inability to roll the dice.

Down the road, it gets less hopeful: that theory which is now so interesting and mind-blowing will grow frustratingly insufficient and patchy. That new idea you had sparked by some brilliant thinker will get tarnished in its application and by the time you have thought about it enough, you'll wonder why you thought it was anything in the first place. And then you'll read and re-read and remember and your dissertation machine (which is only one part thesis), the one you are building for your supervisors, the one you are so hopeful and sure about at this point, will come out nothing like you thought it would. But it will be good. Or good enough.

I say that, but I don't know for sure. Ask me in a year, year and a half, or two.

Let's all of us become doctors, and then unemployed doctors, and then short-term employed doctors, and then lecturers and then we'll be academics. And we'll look back with even more knowing eyes, seeing even more of the arc. I'm going to try to avoid isolating myself and getting into my thesis hole. Yes, I will go to the reception dinner for new students. Yes, I will have coffee and cake with them during the first week. And I'll listen to whatever big idea they have, and when they ask me about my big idea, I'll talk about the diminished core of my own big idea, the one that I have twisted and tortured so much, I'm not even sure what is left of it. I'm interested in antagonism now--I used to be interested in community.

I won't say that, of course, because one of the things I've learned that they haven't yet learned is how to give a compelling elevator pitch. 90 seconds and I'll have you thinking I not only have an interesting idea, but that I may have even found out something about the world. It's an illusion, of course, but I'm better at pretending.

Are you doing okay this week? the head of the department says to me today: you were a bit harried last week. Was I? More than normal? Oh, no, I said, I'm fine: I'm still a second year PhD student. Ask me next week.