30 April 2011

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 10

[Five 35mm Film Frames: Subway Passengers, New York City: Man in Cap Reading Newspaper, Subway Car Interior]
Artist:Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut)
Date: January 7, 1941
Medium: Film negative
Credit Line:Walker Evans Archive, 1994
Accession Number:1994.253.544
Rights and Reproduction:© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

29 April 2011

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 9

Descriptive Title
[12 Interior Views of Mabry House, Stockbridge, Massachusetts]


Film negative

2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.

Credit LineWalker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

Rights and Reproduction
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


28 April 2011

Writer's block

I'm blocked. No good writing this week. Basically, the problem is that I need to write about 800 more words for the chapter or literature review or whatever it is that I'm writing. I'm shooting for 10k words of theoretical framework and am at just about 9,200 now. It's going to give me operational definitions for a couple of key terms ('community' and 'impoliteness') and some theory to help me talk about what impoliteness accomplishes in the dataset. I have all the main ideas in the text, and it is deep enough (about 4 pages of references, used well and appropriately engaged), but I'm missing sort of the sinews of the writing; that is, the small bits of signposting that make everything come together. Miss about 20 or 30 important sentences in the chapter and the whole thing can feel disjointed and listless. I'm getting there. The introduction is there. There are three main sections: I just need to get them to talk to each other.

Talk to each other. This is what they need to do.

I went to a funding seminar today that was lead by one of my favourite people at the OU and although it ended up being a little bit frustrated seeing as realism about the cost of staying here and the visa has sunk in, it wasn't a complete waste of time. I've been waiting for someone to tell me that I've got it all wrong, I've missed the bigger picture: staying here is right, regardless of the cost. I say that I want someone to say that to me, but really, I don't. I feel like staying in the UK is what I should do, that it is the most logical step for someone in my situation, that it will lead to a good job with a good house with a good life for my family. The truth is, however, that I don't think it's what I want: I like the UK, but I'm not sure I'm ready to settle here... yet? I don't know. I don't know what it is. I suppose I feel a bit trapped and am interested in the idea of something else. The lie of a wide open world where anything is possible? Perhaps... I can't seem to accept a long-term future here, with the trouble that it creates for us as third country people. The money will never be great and we will never really be English. That's okay, it could be okay, but I still feel like if I have to settle some place, I still prefer Japan over just about anywhere else.

More than all that, I would like to find some place that is interesting, with a good salary and a good job. Near the sea, if possible. I don't want to do temporary work. I don't want to have to worry about visas constantly. I don't want to have to be under the thumb of the government with the fear that things will be different in a year or two. If it's going to be fluid, we might as well go somewhere with a bigger payoff then, 'Well, you might be able to get a temporary job next year. Depends on who's running the country.' Sod it, I'd rather work with purpose in a programme with some long-term goals, wherever that is.

Ugh. These are big problems to be worried about when I'm trying to do good academic work, but it is what is.

I didn't eat too much at the lunch. That was one good thing. There is cake in the kitchen of Stuart Hall Building Level 1 and I'm probably not going to have a piece and I'm sort of indifferent about it. Things are changing with my body and mind if this is honestly the case. I'm not sure that it is.

And I've been standing at work now for about three weeks and can say that I have converted. I have no urge to sit anymore: this has become my normative practice. I still haven't done a true full week of it yet, and next week I have to go to Spain, so it'll only be a day. Well, whatever: I feel great. It hasn't done anything noticeable to my caloric intake, however. I haven't lost any weight and this week, I've been eating like 2,200-2,300 kCals a day despite riding my bike to work and standing all day, and I haven't seen any drops in body fat or weight. Perhaps this is just the way my body is now. We'll have to see.

Is my sun tea done brewing? Yoko and the girls will be here in an hour and we will go to Ikea for dinner, which is a great thing, by the way. Cheap and much better than it sounds. Free coffee too. We got paid yesterday and, although it was the last month with a significant contribution from part-time work, we've done well this year so far. Well, Yoko has: conserving resources, doing more with less, and still being happy in the midst of it. I have worked, worked, and worked some more. Perhaps I will get new headphones for my birthday... Perhaps.

Until then, everyone, please, be well, okay?

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 8

Descriptive Title
[Woman in Fur Collar on Street, New York City]


Film negative

4 3/4 x 1 1/2 in. - (cut down)

Credit Line
Walker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

Rights and Reproduction
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


27 April 2011

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 7

Descriptive Title
[Roadside Gas Station and Miners' Houses, Lewisburg, Alabama]

December 17, 1935

Film negative

8 x 10 in.

Credit Line
Walker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

Rights and Reproduction
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


26 April 2011

The future knit to the present

Yoko and I had a scary conversation today about the next couple of months. It's like this: next week I will go to Spain for RaAM, come back for Mother's Day (US and Japan), then Mei's Birthday (May 9), conference at OU (May 10-11), Naomi's birthday (May 15), and then the beginning of preparing for the baby. 17 June, Yoko's mom comes, then the baby, and then Yoko's dad comes, Yoko and I have our wedding anniversary, and Yoko's parents go back on 14 July. We try to take a picture of the baby for the US passport, get all the necessary papers together. My parents come at the end of July for a week. I take a week of vacation. We get the passport. It's the middle of August.

It's the middle of August and I have a year left. A year to finish the PhD, get a job, and move my little family somewhere in the world, a somewhere that is completely up in the air, although I have theories about where it might be. The point of all this is that the end and the new beginning are coming and they are going to come quickly. Having a newborn is like losing three to six months of your life. The PhD is bound to become more and more a perpetual disorder machine: I have felt it this week as I try to put my literature review together. The more I write, the less I feel like I know anything about anything.

The decisions we will make with only a year left will be much different. We will acquire less. I will probably take on two or three classes at Middlesex in the Autumn to prepare for the possible cost of moving. We won't sleep, the baby will be up all night, and I will sleepwalk into the future.

But this is the thing, after the baby is born and has a passport, I am open for business and will be looking for a real job. Not earnestly at first, but from October of 2011 until the end, we are potentially 1-3 months at any time from picking up and leaving for anywhere in the world. How crazy is that. It's like a tinderbox with a match getting closer and closer. It will affect choices about what to acquire, what to throw away. If the car breaks down, we probably wouldn't fix it or get a new one. These are the sorts of things that start to change when you know you're leaving.

Leaving for anywhere in the world. Spin the globe, close your eyes, and point. I'm looking at possibilities everywhere right now. My criteria is interesting work with good pay in a safe place with good potential support apparatus for the family. And that's anywhere. And it's exciting. Rather than choosing to languish in the UK hoping that something will work out, shelling out thousands for visas, and doing bits of part-time work. That was what I had been expecting. Not any more.

My excitement about this will turn to terror and back to excitement and then to boredom and melancholy as nothing seems to happen. And then, before I know it, I will be buying four and half plane tickets to somewhere. How exciting is that.

Americana and Walker Evans

I hope you are all enjoying Walker Evans as much as I am, although I'm not sure that's possible. People ask me about living in America sometimes, and I happily oblige any question and answer as though I know something about America. The truth is, however, that I have not lived in the States for seven years, so when I tell someone about life in America, I am telling them a memory, the memory of being a 16-20 year old mostly, certainly not an adult. I say how things were, not how things are because I have no idea how things are, really. I consume a lot of US media, so I suppose that keeps me up-to-date and I have been back every year since 2003, I think. I don't think I've missed a year. Still, this is not the experience of someone living there now.

All that means is that for me, America becomes more and more of a memory every day that I am away, and with that, I think it becomes more and more of an idea rather than a reality. Being someone who is already quite prone to nostalgia, this is not good for giving any sense of a real picture of anything.

The American idea that I love, the one that I have only a very small experience of as a very small child in Northern Minnesota, is the America that Walker Evans seems to have taken pictures of. It is America from 1920ish to 1950ish. It is America before the sexual revolution, before we started taking things out of the box (you might remember that metaphor from my description of Istanbul). This is mostly fiction, of course: yes, things started to change in big ways around the end of the 50s, but things are always changing, and America has always been, in one way or another, in flux. We're just an adolescent of a country after all..

The real America before the sixties was a place of segregation, subordination of women, waste, and patriarchy. It is not something to go back to, certainly. It was not a better time: it was a different time and a much, much worse time for many people in the States. The clothes may have been better. That's about all I'm willing to say, I think. If there is a real image of America at the end of this time, something to remind us (me) that it was in no way idyllic, I suspect it is this.

But still, I am a sucker for nostalgia and ideas, and Walker Evans seems to capture sadness and insecurity and America emerging in the photos he took, both of people and buildings. And not without some attitude, here and there.

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 6

Descriptive Title
[Man in Suit Jacket and Seersucker Pants, Moundville, Alabama]


Film negative

8 x 10 in.

Credit Line
Walker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

Rights and Reproduction
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


25 April 2011

Death is dead: Resurgam

Easter came and went yesterday.
It was, when I woke up, looking like the first Easter in a long time (ever?) that I would not be attending church, but Yoko decided that she wanted to go, so we piled into the car and headed to the church down by where we used to live. I've gone back and forth on attending church with Yoko and the girls, but when I don't go, I feel as though I am letting Yoko down and so, despite the frustration, it is better for me to go than not, provided I can keep a good attitude about it.

Yesterday, I had a poor attitude and couldn't stop watching everything as though I were in some sort of bubble. Easter, when I was as child, meant a lot of things, but I think I experienced it more as the marking of an anniversary, in the same way that we marked the Fourth of July. This was the day that Jesus rose from the grave, a historic fact. As I began to see religion more and more as a social phenomenon, the meaning of Easter, of course, changed. Now, I understand Easter (and the story of Jesus rising from the dead) is the antidote to the experience of dead which looms over us all. Jesus died, but lived; you will die, but live. Seen through this lens, the Easter service is a different experience: it is a rejection of the most inevitable thing in life, really. Everyone rejoices, raises their hands in the air: death is dead, they sing.

In college, I got one simple tattoo. It is the word 'Resurgam', right between my shoulder blades in Times New Roman 18. Resurgam: I will rise again (or I will be raised again). It is a reference to Jane Eyre, and I got it at a time my life had fallen apart, to borrow the metaphor. My attempts to keep my high school relationship going through college had not been successful, and in the Spring of 2001, it was over.  I was listless and miserable all summer at home, painting houses for work: I grew my hair out and went to bed as early as I could. I was supposed to spend the Autumn of 2001 in Chicago, doing research at the Newberry Library, but I didn't end up going as it had all been a clever (albeit painfully transparent) foil to be closer to my girlfriend. There was no future there; I just wanted to get away, as far away as I could. The summer wore on and on and finally school restarted and I was able to escape.

I remember the other dominant desire from the summer, the one that kept me going. I thought the whole time that everything would be put back into the box eventually, that things would work out if I just tried harder, was a better person, prayed more about it. I would have taken either: a completely new life or my old life back, but the in between, the moving from one to another, one day after another after another for three months, was not something I felt I could stand.

I got the tattoo in one of my first weekends back. Jules drove me up to Rock Island and they did it quickly, commenting that it was so small. Resurgam meant everything to me at the time--it touched on my religious faith, my love of literature and a great book, my hope for the future despite being miserable. Resurgam: yes, there was a future; yes, things were going to be okay; yes, I believed.

Resurgam: I will rise again. I did, thankfully, rise again and the tattoo--although I am not always happy to have it, I have never regretted getting it. I did rise again: the tattoo reminds me of this when I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror or when Naomi notices it. I will rise again and again and again in my life.

But death... no, unfortunately, death is not dead. Death looms and will continue to loom despite the song, despite the story, despite the assurances of the faithful who are convinced they know and have experienced something that I have not. The pastor at the church did her best to cast the Easter story in a new light (as I'm sure millions of people did yesterday), but I realised listening to her that preaching is like a colouring book: the text provides the dark lines that you must stay inside of and the preacher just fills in the rest with commentary and narrative about what the people 'must' have been feeling. How would you feel. Imagine how they would feel. Have you ever experienced an earthquake (I was suddenly thinking of the tsunamis rolling in). The angel, the rolled away stone, Jesus appearing in shining light.... Death is conquered, alleluia. Who wouldn't want to believe that.

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 5

Descriptive Title
[Greek Revival Doorway with Sign for Furnished Rooms, New Orleans, Louisiana]

March 1935

Film negative

8 x 10 in.

Credit Line
Walker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

24 April 2011

Easter in the big city

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 4

Descriptive Title
[Garage Mechanic, New Orleans, Louisiana]

January 1936

Film negative

8 x 10 in.

Credit Line
Walker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

Rights and Reproduction
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art



On Friday, we went to the best picnic/cookout ever, thrown by the best cookout throwers that I know, P and E. Now, P and E are both from Eastern(ish) Europe. I was worried about eating too much at this picnic, but I was reminded, when we arrived, that a cookout with P and E was not a cookout in the US. In the US, the most important question at the beginning of the cookout is, 'How many hamburgers and/or hot dogs will you have?' After this, you will get your hamburger and/or hot dog in a white bun, then there will be American 'chips' (crisps in this country), potato salad, maybe some salad (with lots of dressing) if you're lucky, and a load of sweets at the end. There will be no vegetables on the grill.

P and E, on the other hand, had chicken (and like four hamburgers, but without buns), bread (cut small) and hummus (and a selection of soft cheeses), Turkish salad (parsley, barely, tomato, olive oil), and then vegetables on the grill. Tons of different ones. At the end, there was some cake for another friend who was having a birthday, but vegetables and more vegetables was the name of the game. With a focus, of course, on taste, not quantity (although there was still more than enough to eat). It was fabulous, particularly the Turkish salad and I left having eaten a lot, but kept my caloric intake well below what it needed to be. The aubergine in particular. It was great. It was greater than great.

23 April 2011

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 3

Descriptive Title
[Unidentified Woman]

May 1959 (?)

Chromogenic print

5.2 x 7.9 cm (2 1/16 x 3 1/8 in.)

Credit Line
Walker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

Rights and Reproduction
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


22 April 2011

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 2

After stumbling upon the Walker Evans archive at the New York Met, I am going to post one of his photos every day for a month. It's already Day 2, seeing as I posted three yesterday.

Descriptive Title
[Two Prints of Ticket Window, Kingston, Rhode Island, For Fortune Article: "The U.S. Depot"]


Dye transfer print

Image: 25.4 x 20 cm (10 x 7 7/8 in.) Sheet: 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)

Credit Line
Walker Evans Archive, 1994

Accession Number

Rights and Reproduction
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

21 April 2011

Standing all this time

I used the standing desk all this week and by the end of today, I didn't feel at all like I had done anything abnormal.
In fact, I was even reading standing up in the library. I don't know if it is changing anything, but I think I'm going to keep doing it. The feeling of purpose when standing is strange. I also did a lot of writing this week, even heavy writing with a lot of citations which I thought would be a problem as I had to read as well as write, but I just did the reading that I needed to standing up. The footrest/footrail is really important I think. It allows you to change you position up a bit. I moved the keyboard up too, although I have a bit of a pain in my right shoulder after the adjustment. Not sure if that's because it's just new, or if I need to change it again.

I've also been eating better, but not really taking care to stay under 2,500 kCals as I have for the last 8 months essentially. I think I made a mistake Tuesday and yesterday though as I forced myself up to 2,500 kCals and didn't feel great afterwards. Today I'm at just about 2,000 and feeling very full. Rather than trying to top it off, I'm just going to go with it and see what happens to my weight. My weight was up a little today, but my body fat percentage was lower than it's ever been, which is sort of my goal. Not sure how low the body fat will go without working out, but it was at 15.8% this morning, which is pretty low for me, especially as I'm not working out or doing any training to build muscle mass.

The beans have been really good too. I'm going to go to the Indian store in the market this weekend and get some beans and chillis to cook for myself. That should help the sodium intake and let me make an even more bean-centric lunch for next week, although Monday and Friday are national holidays so I'm not sure if I'll be going into work on those days, cutting back on my exercise. Tomorrow is also a Bank Holiday, so I think I will run. We have a party to go to in the afternoon, but given my change in thinking (not to exercise to eat more), I will probably not eat that much anyway. Well, I mean, I'll eat normally. 

Oh, and I almost forgot (how did I almost forget?): I'm pretty much 100% after my surgery. I say pretty much, but as I think about it, I didn't have any pain today, not even after getting off my bike. This is, what, 12 days later? The incision is almost completely healed. Everything is in working order. Odd that after all that, you just forget about it. And I suppose that's exactly what you want.

Anyway. Body/mind feels good though. I feel great. Things will continue on towards homoeostasis, I hope. Until then, I will tweak away.

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 1.5

This is the one I was looking for, on the cover of Ruth Wodak's book on Gender and Discourse.

A Month of Walker Evans, Day 1

Man, this world is full of good things to discover.

[Jane Smith Evans Smoking], Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut), Film negative
A Month of Walker Evans

[Jane Smith Evans Smoking]

Artist: Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut)
Date: 1950s
Medium: Film negative
Dimensions: 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.
Credit Line: Walker Evans Archive, 1994
Accession Number: 1994.252.80
Rights and Reproduction: © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

20 April 2011

Seeds in the hair

Oh. Hey.

Trying to make a healthy skillet

Too much sodium though.
1 egg
4 mushrooms
1 can of red kidney beans
1 onion
3 shavings of pepperjack cheese
1 slice of ham
Bits of leftover chicken

Not bad! Beans and mushrooms for potatoes is great, I think. More protein than a potato.

19 April 2011

Bit and pieces

I'm working on my writing, my thesis I should just say, but I realise as I work on it how much there is to do and think about and how this little bit that I am working on is just small part of a larger... story? Mural? Narrative? You choose the metaphor. I am working through comments from my supervisors and, for the first time, really getting it. This will last a day, perhaps, and I will be back in the wilderness, but for now, I feel like I am making progress.

Progress looks like this: I need to theorise dominance in interaction. How do I do that in a paragraph or two? Where do I look? Ah, gender in language probably has a lot about dominance. Yes, yes, it does and it starts to bleed into critical discourse analysis, which I need to address briefly but step away from because it's not what I'm really interested in. Institutional power is not dominance. Well it is: they're related, here's how they're related, but I'm interested in someone calling someone else human garbage. That's not exactly a question of institutional power. Here's how I'm going to use it and where my research is going to take these ideas. Full stop.

This it the process of writing that I need to work on.

Things I'm thankful for today:
  • Wife and kids in the morning
  • Copier code in library
  • Sunny day
  • Painless (80%-ish) ride on bike for first time since operation
  • Chicken for dinner
  • www.hunter-gather.com 
  • A wide open future
  • My standing (stand-up? Not sure what term we're using) desk
  • Party at friends on Friday
  • Three day weekend
  • Not caring about three day weekends because I love working
  • 8:30, when everyone has gone to bed and the house is quiet
  • The garden
  • Playing in the garden with kids
  • Porridge
  • Low carb, low calorie skillet (like Denny's, only healthy)
  • Memories of bike rides in Shibata, Japan
  • The prospect of more bike rides in Japan
  • Unsweetened lemonade
  • Starbucks card
  • James Blake
  • Baby coming sooner rather than later
  • Homoeostasis
  • Apples
  • iMean last week
  • Hot sauces, all of them
  • Milton Keynes in the Spring
  • Convergence 
  • But never without some divergence
  • Agreement with wife on a key life issue
Good to make a list every so often, I think, even if it is dominated by food. I used to make these lists all the time. I should to it more often.

18 April 2011


Well, I'm having my bi-yearly visa meltdown that involves trying to figure out whether or not staying in this country is a feasible option for my family. If you look below, there is a more in-depth discussion of it, but I am struck by the metaphor they use about the Tier 1 post study work visa being a 'bridge' and all these niceties about about wanting to keep talent in the the country. If the Tier 1 post study work visa is a bridge, it's a very expensive toll bridge that doesn't reach to the other side, which I assume is the Tier 2 skilled work visa. There are so many limits on what you can do and so many constraints on you if you want to stay after the post study period. I guess I can see how you might come out on the other end with some permanent work but it would almost certainly rule out doing a postdoc as you really need to find a permanent post that you stay in for at least six months before applying for the next visa. Not sure how you're supposed to get hired in a permanent post without a permanent visa though. 'Trust me, they'll give me the visa after you hire me and keep me around for six months. That's what the website says.'

It's so frustrating. This government will have spent around £100,000 on me over the last 4 years, keeping me in the country and educating me. Then I'll finish and they will make no real effort to keep me on as a tax-paying resident, even though that's what I want.

It does, however, open up all sorts of possibilities for me and my family when we finish. If I'm going to teach English/do teacher training, I can likely do that anywhere in the world, in any number of interesting schools/environments. So that is exciting.

And I don't have to worry about a postdoc application because it won't be in my interest to do one anyway. I'll look for projects in Europe and work all over the world. Where the Pihlaja family lands will be a mystery to everyone until then. And I like that a lot.

17 April 2011

Food Blog

First iced coffee of the year and lunck for a week.

2 1/2 cups of rice
4 mushrooms
1 onion
4 hot dogs
2 cans of red kidney beans
1 head of brocolli
Handful of red pepper

Tier 2

Yeah, this is real. From a job posting:

For those of you unfamiliar with Border Agency speak, this means non-UK/EU residents need not apply. This is the kind of job I am qualified for: an entry-level lecturer position at a smallish university.


UPDATED: Okay, I guess it's more complicated. There is a way to stay, I guess: it just would cost me a little over £3,000. Here's how it works. First you graduate, and get a Tier 1 (Post-study work) visa:
The Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) category aims to retain the most able international graduates who have studied in the United Kingdom. It will also enhance the United Kingdom’s overall offer to international students. Successful applicants will be free to seek employment without having a sponsor for the duration of their Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) leave. This category provides a bridge to highly skilled or skilled work. Individuals with Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) leave will be expected to switch into another part of the points based system as soon as they are able to do so.
This is like £600 for the main applicant and £300 for each dependant. Then you go out and find a job, a temporary one mind you, as you will only have leave to stay for two years. You do that temporary job and they decide to like you and employ you long term and you can switch to a Tier 2 (Skilled work) visa which is three years and renewable:
You can be assigned a certificate of sponsorship and score 30 points if you are switching from: Tier 1 (Post-study work) You must have worked for your current sponsor for a continuous period of at least 6 months immediately before the date of your application. You must be applying to continue to work in the same job that you are doing in the UK on your application date.
This will set you back £550 plus £250 for each dependant.

Although this is true:
For the year from 6 April 2011 to 5 April 2012, a maximum of 20,700 skilled workers can come to the UK under Tier 2 (General) to do jobs with an annual salary below £150,000.
It only counts for people coming from abroad.

Can't find any documentation about the 'employ a UK person over a foreigner' law, but if that's true none of this matters.

15 April 2011

Life goes on

From Tokyo Times. How can you have ohanami at a time like this. How can you not have ohanami at a time like this. 


How prescient was this.

Again, 'So, are you going to try for a boy now?' 
'Well, you'll never guess what I did last Saturday!'

No, that doesn't work. Again, I answer, 'No, I don't think so.'

I feel much better though. Amazing what your body can do/recover from.

14 April 2011

iMean, Day 2

I'm at a conference in Bristol this week called iMean. It's been probably the best conference I've ever been to in terms of interest and quality. Everything so far has been at least a little relevant to what I'm doing and there are a bunch of big name people here that I'm very happy to meet for the first time. Always strange to know someone's work so well and then to finally meet them.

I am presenting today, telling my little story about my little niche of the world. I feel pretty confident in at least the flow of the presentation, if not the content, so I think it should come together. We'll see though.

12 April 2011

My dad

I love this picture of my dad doing what he loves, clearing the land, burning brush.

My dad

Standing desk at work

Everything is working now, I think.

April update

Well, homeostasis, here I come. It's been a hard week because I haven't been able to ride my bike, but I think this is forcing me to get used to putting on a little weight, which is a part of maintaining. Small loss, small gain. Body retains water, body loses water. I feel pretty good though. Hopefully next week, I will be 100% recovered and back on the bike.

11 April 2011

Standing up

I'm at work and I'm making my standing desk work. There's some tweaking that still needs to be done (some bricks and screws), but I can do that tomorrow and everything will be fine then.

I feel fine otherwise. Like... 83%. Not 100% yet. But getting there.

Will I finish this damn presentation now? No idea.

09 April 2011

Simple medical procedure

I'm lying in bed, 'recovering' and feel like writing this up while it's fresh in my mind, so steer away, those uncomfortable with frank talk of the body.

I got up this morning with the idea that I would run, make some sort of memorial run, but it didn't really pan out. I wasn't feeling it, and I was eager just to get the whole thing over as soon as possible. I screwed around most of the morning: did some more washing and 'cleaning up' to make sure everything was ready to go. At about 9:40, I took the Valium, three of the four tablets given to me, as I wanted to take the edge off but still be pretty coherent. This was a bit of a mistake, actually: I probably needed only one or none at all. I was pretty relaxed anyway and Valium just makes you feel a bit drunk and unstable.

So Yoko and I and the kids loaded up to go to the clinic about a half hour away in Dunstable and got there around 10:15, well before my 10:40 appointment. It was simply at a surgery (clinic) that is used for normal GP practice most of the time, but on Saturdays they do vasectomies. I sat in the waiting room with about two other guys, and the doctor came out with someone who had just been done up and the patient joked about it being awful and horrible--told us the nurse was fit (what an awful thing to say, I thought) and left laughing. The guy before me went in and I sat with Yoko and the girls, feeding them a snack and trying to keep myself above the Valium, which was possible, but not easy. The next guy came out and was taken away by his father, and I went in with the doctor who was wearing an untucked polo shirt. He brought me into a regular clinic room that just had a regular exam table covered in paper and a rather attractive (as I had been told), blonde nurse told me to take off my trousers and pants, and I sort of awkwardly asked if I could keep my socks on, which I could.

I stood there, naked from the waist down and started having this rather normal conversation with the nurse that conintued after I laid down and after I got the shot and through the whole of the operation. I talked to her about my wife and kids and living in Japan and my plans for the future. Just a regular conversation. The initial injection stung a bit, but nothing worse than getting blood drawn. The doctor didn't announce much of what he was doing until about halfway through (you'll feel a tug), but I could tell when he made the incision, when he clamped the tubes, and (probably most disconcerting of a feeling mixed with the smell) when he cauterised that ends of the tubes. But again, when it hurt it was only very brief and only at six times: claming of the tubes (2x) and cauterised (4x), and after I got used to it the first round, it was expected.

Then it was over. The nurse said, you did really good, like I was being praised for passing a quiz, and we left before 11. I got in the car feeling nothing and thought, Well, that's that, I guess.

I'm feeling a little bit of discomfort now, but very, very little and the cut looks just like a bit of black marker: there were no stitches. So we went to get lunch at Harvester, the best salad bar in the UK and I had five bowls of salad and a thing of roast chicken.

When the lunch was done, I kid you not, the waiteress asks Yoko, 'When is the baby due?' And I said, In June. 'Coming up soon then. Hoping for a boy?' No, I said, we already know it's a girl. The waitress smiled and said, 'Well, I guess you'll have to try for another.' No, I wanted to say, but didn't, 45 minutes ago I had a vasectomy.... Instead, I said, No, I don't think so, and she smiled and we left.

It's a beautiful day today. I'm glad to have made the right decision, having thought about it as much as I could. I'm glad that I wasn't afraid and that the logical side of me won out. I have simplified my life a lot: no more monthly wondering if we might possibly be pregnant. PhD and AHRC post doc grant. That's the focus of my life now, from here on out.

After, of course, a nap to get this Valium out of my system.

08 April 2011

Teacher, among other things

So I sort of fell into teaching. I never wanted to be a teacher really, until I started teaching and found out that teaching was a really good way to get people to listen to you. And although I have not always been a teacher, I have always been someone who likes to have people listen to them. What can I say.

I had a blast of some teaching in a meeting I was in yesterday. I don't think it's a private subject, so I will share here:

Every year, my department has a student/supervisor event in which PhD students are supposed to come and hang out with their and other students supervisors. This event has been sort of lame. We all sort of shuffle in on a Tuesday afternoon and eat bad catering food and spend the time looking for the exits. Well, not me so much: I am easily pleased when it comes to free food and had a good talk last time with one of the academics I quite like, but never get a chance to talk to.

Anyway, we're planning this year's picnic and I think I succeeded in convincing the committee to have a potluck picnic. I like potlucks, I realised, because they have built in buy-in; that is to say, if you bring food to an event, you have invested in the event and if it sucks, part of it sucking is your fault. If it's just an event that is catered, everyone can bitch and moan about catering, which is easy enough because catering does suck.

I also realised that the way we get people to this event is to make people know that I, Stephen, want them, whoever they are, to be there. Person-to-person. 'Hey, Leroy, it would mean a lot to me if you came next week.' I learned this when I was an Evangelical. You can get people to do things a lot better when they feel like you care about them. Of course, I do care about them, but without saying it, it won't ever happen.

So I'm going to swing my evangelical (small 'e' here) power to make this event as successful as I can, by getting people to put themselves into it. And the more of you that is in something, the less likely you are to complain about it and the more likely you are to defend it. There's nothing that I hate more than people complaining about things they are doing nothing to improve. No time for that.

Community is not an event. I invest in you, you invest in me: we have a sense of community, anywhere on god's green earth. I promise.

Just my thoughts, ladies and gentlemen: just what I was feeling at the time.

Song that's rocking me now

I have this on repeat forever.

The Mountain Goats
Palmcorder Yajna
from We Shall Be Healed

07 April 2011

Standing desk

I'm going to start using a standing desk at work. We'll see if it works or not. Here's the prototype at home. I will tweak it at work on Tuesday.

03 April 2011

Suburban Manhood: a garden, 2 and half kids, and a future of patio beers

There's a 50 Cent song that goes, 'Have a baby by me, baby, be a millionaire.' I was thinking about this song today as I was cutting the vines growing over the fence in our garden for some reason, shocked and jealous in the way that a man nearing thirty with several children might be at just how audacious it is. Surely, this can't be something a grown man thinks is okay to sing. Surely, there are no women who want to hear this message.

This Saturday, I am, in a clear affront to nature, rejecting my key evolutionary purpose, getting a vasectomy. I've tried to stop talking about it, not because I am uncomfortable with the topic, but because everyone around me seems to be uncomfortable. They listen to me dutifully, knowing that, yes, it's probably not something to be embarrassed about, and yes, they probably shouldn't ask me not to talk about it, but there's something about the word that sticks in people's mouths. Not in mine, I say it freely, like I am Walt Whitman, lying in a field of grass. I've stopped, however, because I know that you might not want to hear me say it.

I was put on this earth to procreate: I realise this, I accept it. That's what drives us to do almost every stupid thing we do: trying to get more of our guys out there. I am going to have three of my guys in the evolutionary fight, so I think my DNA is safe, likely to be passed on to some unsuspecting baby or babies in the next 30 to 40 years. But I'm only going to have three guys out there.

This, in my head, in my oft-maligned critical apparatus that fires on all cylinders about everything all the time, makes perfect sense: 'Yes, good, right, this is the thing to do. Small pain for a couple of days: be a man. Small chance of complications: but you got in a car today, moron. Risk is risk. Then you secure stability and peace of mind.' That voice, that guy? I like that guy. I am that guy. He makes me money. He gets me acclaim every now and then. He's not the best person to have at a dinner party necessarily ('Do you know how many kilocalories are in that?'), but I like him enough.

Then, suddenly, 50 Cent pops into my mind. I can't put the rest of it into words, actually. All I can say is that 50 Cent, proud of his ability to procreate whenever he wants, came into my mind as I pulled at the vines coming over fence from the neighbour's garden. 'Baby, be a millionaire.'

I got to the point today where I couldn't use the lawnmower that came with the house anymore. It's a 'Flymo Microlite'. The blades are plastic and it is made for an old woman to do a very minimal amount of gardening. There was also a petrol mower in the garage which worked swimmingly last year, but died over the offseason. Three times so far, I have gone through the same process: Get out Flymo. Get frustrated. Get out petrol mower. Try to start it. Get angry. Go back to Flymo. Get angry. Go back to trying to start petrol mower. Repeat without revision for two hours.

Today, I was on the second cycle of this process and one of the plastic blades on the Flymo broke when it hit a stick (and which happens regularly). I cursed as loudly and as viciously as a man can in his garden when there are potentially people around and went to get another blade, but I didn't have any more. No matter, I thought, this will give me a chance to think about some things as I walk to B&Q, a DIY megastore which is incidentally right by another megastore that sells iPads: perhaps feeling sorry for myself will turn into an impulse purchase.

I ended up looking at lawnmowers in the B&Q garden section for a few minutes, thinking, I should just get another mower, but there wasn't anything under £50. And really, buying a new mower is the responsibility of our landlord, although he's made it pretty clear that the Flymo is sufficient. Anyway, I got the blades, but suddenly spotted a push mower, the old kind: no electricity, no petrol. £39.99. This, I thought, this will solve my problem in the most classic, most refined way. I thought about getting it, going back and forth between the plastic blades and the mower, but finally did get the mower. The walk back with the box was harder than I thought it would be and I spent the whole time trying to justify it to myself by imagining a conversation with Yoko, although I knew Yoko would approve as she doesn't like hearing me cuss or having me frustrated every weekend in the summer when I attempt to do any garden maintenance.

When I got home, I assembled the handle and attached it to the wheel and blades and started pushing it around: why hadn't I ever thought of this before? It was perfectly peaceful; none of the high octane, loud power of the petrol mower. Just the spinning of the blade. It's exactly what I imagined it would be—the sound was perfect. It, of course, doesn't cut as quickly as the petrol mower, but it does good, steady work and doesn't get stuck or require going over things three hundred times like Flymo. I was pleased with myself for having made the right impulse decision, walking slowly up and down the garden with the soft sound of the spinning blade carrying me along. My future, I thought, contains almost innumerable experiences exactly the same as this--pushing a lawnmower in the late afternoon sun, wondering if I am going to beat the rain that seems to be coming just now.

I imagine someone asking me, 'So three kids? Is that all? You gonna try for a boy?' I'll say, 'No, this is going to be it for us.' And the person, smiling, will say, 'Well, you never know, right?' I've thought about how I might respond: 'No, I'm sterile now' or 'No, I'm fixed, so it's not a possibility' or 'No, although my testicles produce sperm, I've had my vasa deferentia cut and sealed, so the sperm is absorbed into my bloodstream rather than being fed into my semen. It's a common form of birth control.' None of these seems quite right, especially in a casual conversation that comes up when we meet someone by chance in the supermarket, which is where I imagine this conversation taking place. Is there really anything to say in moments like this?

'Well, you never know.' No, imaginary person in my head, sometimes you know.

Naomi attempts to get ice cream, eventually succeeds

Naomi did her best to not burst into tears while this happened to her.

02 April 2011

One of these things is not like the others

I felt much, much better on this trip. It's amazing how bad it makes you feel to eat too much when you're travelling, especially after Day 1. This trip, I resolved to be different: ate what I wanted to, but not very much of any one thing and very careful not to do what I have done in the past which is wake up and start eating and just eat the whole time. Seriously, I felt so much better. No more gorge and exercise for me. Perhaps everyone else knows this already, but putting it into practice has really helped me: Don't eat sweets when you're hungry. Eat a little bit and enjoy it and fill up on vegetables and meat. Although the Turkish diet is a little carb heavy (more bread!?), my morning breakfast of yoghurt, raisins, and mulberries, ham, hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes, and coffee was really filling, but did very little damage on my caloric intake. I also didn't constantly eat candy. Having just bits of Turkish Delight at the Spice Market was perfect: perfect sizes and you really enjoy it too.

So. Good then.

01 April 2011


Today marks more than halfway to the end of the PhD--well, at least the funding period. From here on out, I have fewer days ahead of me than behind me. The hardest bit is still to come: by this time next year, I'm be a raving lunatic to be certain.

 It's been good so far, clearly the right choice at this point. It will be good for the last 17 months and 29 days. I think I will miss it when it's done. All I have to do now, really, is this.