30 June 2011

Getting younger

Is it just me, or do I have a bit of a Benjamin Buttons thing going on?

Well, I mean minus the three kids and wife, of course.

Mia & Mei

Human, All too Human, Day 17

There is no pre-established harmony between the furthering of truth and the good of mankind.
Human, All too Human
A Month of Nietzsche

29 June 2011


Seeing them all sleeping in the bed together, all you can think about is how complete everything feels, of intention--yes, intention--realised. I went to the registrar and named her today: again, an act of will and intention. You have a name, Mia, and that name was given to you.

Song of myself, 8

My children have me thinking about Whitman. Love how he makes this work, how he gets to 'The suicide sprawls' and manages to maintain the balance. Golf clap: I rejoice with you, Walt.

The little one sleeps in its cradle;
I lift the gauze, and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my hand.

The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill;
I peeringly view them from the top.

The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bed-room;
I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair—I note where the pistol has fallen.

The blab of the pave, the tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the promenaders;
The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the clank of the shod horses on the granite floor;
The snow-sleighs, the clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snowballs;
The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous’d mobs;
The flap of the curtain’d litter, a sick man inside, borne to the hospital;
The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall;
The excited crowd, the policeman with his star, quickly working his passage to the centre of the crowd;
The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes;
What groans of over-fed or half-starv’d who fall sun-struck, or in fits;
What exclamations of women taken suddenly, who hurry home and give birth to babes;
What living and buried speech is always vibrating here—what howls restrain’d by decorum;
Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made, acceptances, rejections with convex lips;
I mind them or the show or resonance of them—I come, and I depart.
If you, like me, are interested in how Leaves of Grass changed over the years, note how Walt edited this line in deathbed version:
The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the promenaders
Interesting that he needed to get rid of that 'the'. I want to get an MA in Leaves of Grass Comparative Studies. This degree should exist if it doesn't already...

Human, All too Human, Day 16

There are slavish souls who carry their thanks for favors so far that they actually strangle themselves with the rope of gratitude.
Human, All too Human

28 June 2011

Mia Day Two

God's deterministic plan for your life

For I know the plans I have for you---plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -The LORD (Jeremiah 29:11)
My life is played out like a jheri curl, I'm ready to die. -Biggie Smalls
If you're into Biggie and Tupac, you will know that both are seen as being prescient and prophetic in light of their violent deaths. Biggie's 'Ready to Die' and 'Life After Death' are the best examples as Biggie, it seems, knew what  fate had determined for him and accepted it, ready to die on his feet than live on his knees. And he did--they both did. When Biggie raps, 'I'm ready to die', we know he means it. He believes it. It was, as he said, already played out.

Although Biggie and Tupac's deaths might ultimately be deemed agentive (they were, after all, repeatedly putting themselves into situations where they might get shot), they both had a strong notion of an unseen hand making everything play out, but the trouble with fate is like the trouble with god--as I'm not the first to say--especially with a god that has some amount of power to intervene in the world. Theists might reject the notion of 'fate' (agentless determinism) and accept 'god's plan' (agentful determinism), but pragmatically and experientially, there's no difference. Indeed, you can't have a powerful god in the system without having some amount of determinism and you certainly can't have an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god without having complete determinism (and a shitload of apologetic patches about the problem of evil). You have to have one or the other. I accepted this when I was a Christian by accepting Calvin's worldview: surely if god had a plan for the righteous, if he established and determined their path, he also must, necessarily, have established the path of the wicked. Parts of the Bible say as much and it is, as far as I can tell, the most intellectually honest position, if you need to have a god in your system.

The problem is, however, lots of people have god in their systems, but don't want to accept determinism. Or they want to accept the good bits of determinism, but not the bad bits. God has a great plan for your life, but if you mess it up--well, that's your fault... You've heard these arguments before and I'm fine with people believing paradoxical things--I'm certainly not logical all the time. I can't stand, however, when someone's dumb paradox is applied to me to try to make me think or believe or feel something. God has a plan for your life, Stephen. Great. Thanks for sharing. There is no god. We've both said our piece: can I go now?

I don't believe in determinism. I do believe (or should say know, as we have now trespassed on to empirical grounds) that there are a very limited set of affordances for any individual, but empirical affordances. Most of the time, we can  see what holds us down, what constrains us, what limits our possibilities in any given day and/or year and/or life. That's not to say the system can't change, quite often it radically does, but when it does, you can observe and track the changes from stability to stability. Putting god into the narrative only acts as an anecdote to the feelings of helplessness--don't worry, god has a good plan for you, you aren't helpless--but it doesn't remove the constraints of the system or solve any problems in an empirical sense. Believing in an unseen hand making it all happen is perhaps a necessity for some people. There's just no way of ever knowing if it's actually true and, therefore, pragmatically speaking, of no consequence unless, of course,  you believe it and it makes you feel better.

Yesterday I left the house to get some food for a birthday cookout--walked past the car and realised I had left my mobile at home. I went up the stairs and noticed the child gate was up to keep the kids out from upstairs because the windows were open, but I pushed down the gate (which was surprisingly loose), and grabbed my phone from my bag and started to tighten it against the wall again. As I looked up, I saw Mei, standing on the window sill in her room, in front of the open window looking back at me. I shouted, ran over, and swooped her up into my arms. Had she come up behind me--she couldn't have, the gate was only down for a second and she hadn't been on the stairs. She must have been up there by herself: how long had she been alone?

Holding Mei, coming down the stairs, I screamed out at Yoko: why is Mei up here, what are you doing, what were you thinking? I was so angry: she was about to fall, what were you thinking? My Japanese fell apart, I could only barely explain it, but Yoko took Mei and I went to shut all the windows. Yoko and her mother were patient in the midst of my rage: measured and careful in their response, but I was furious. I noticed that Mei had, on the window sill where she was, already pulled one of the windows shut and was heading, when I saw her, to the next one. I perceived myself as coming right at the perfect time, right at the perfect moment, but that moment had already happened: she had already leaned out to pull the window shut and hadn't slipped or fallen.

Here now, the Christian might be exacerbated, don't you see Stephen? How blind are you to god's plan for your life? At just the right moment, you came upstairs. At just the right moment you looked up.This is god's plan, god's grace in your life. 

I put my phone in my pocket, slammed the door shut without saying goodbye and went to the supermarket, still livid, although growing ashamed that now Yoko's mother had seen me behave at my worst, the secret finally out about how angry I can be. It took me about three hours to finally come down and accept what had happened: children have close calls all the time and sometimes they do fall out of windows and it is sometimes the parents' fault for not being careful enough. Mei, if she had fallen where she had would have been quite lucky actually, she would have fallen onto the roof of the conservatory, which she would have slid off of, landing on the grass. If she had fallen on her head, it would have been a serious problem, but if she had fallen anywhere else, she would have perhaps broken a leg or arm. It's silly to think about: much more important to see how she got up there and make sure she can't do the same thing again. Although we may want to avoid this problem in the future (and we will be able to avoid this specific problem), we can't make Mei's life safe, actually, only control obvious dangers when we can. The rest will depend on the components and factors in any situation she finds herself in for the rest of her life. And when Mei and Naomi and Mia survive, it will be a mix of luck and our care for them. I like to focus on the amount which is our care, but how much is it really? The world is, after all, an incredibly dangerous place.

But god's plan? No, I am only willing to accept propositions that I am willing to accept completely. 27 June, we avoided tragedy and what would have spoiled an otherwise perfect couple of days. For me, the experience did spoil it to some extent: I stopped on the way to Sainsbury's, had an espresso, and thought about how close everything always is to falling apart... Because you can't have god's good plan without the bad plan. You can't have good parking spots and saved children's lives without Biggie Smalls gunned down and freak accidents where children die playing with tree branches or other ridiculous, innocuous things that are suddenly fatal in the right circumstance. Even if my story had been more dramatic, if I had caught Mei as she was falling, the point remains: children fall and die. One instance of it not happening does not and cannot negate the rest. So I prefer the system I can observe over the one I can't, but in both cases, I am small and insignificant, telling myself a story to feel better about the whole thing. Apologies for trying to impose my story on you--please don't try to impose your's on me.

Human, All too Human, Day 15

One is twice as happy to dive after a man who has fallen into the water if people are present who do not dare to.

27 June 2011

Reflects on my 28th year

I did this last year, so I think I will do it this year too.

To be honest, I felt much more on the edge of something last year than what ultimately panned out. That's not to say that things didn't change in very, very big ways last year: if you had told me this time last year that we were going to be having a baby, I would have laughed at you, I'm sure.
Over my dead body, I would have said.
Don't worry, you might have also said, you'll have a vasectomy, too.
Great! I would have said, I've always wanted to have one of those. But how does that gel with the having a baby thing.
You'll have it afterwards, you'd have said.
Oh well, I guess it couldn't have been helped, I would have said.
Right, you would have said, you're already starting to learn what you're going learn in your 28th year.
Really? I would have said, might you tell me now, to avoid the heartache I am sure to cause and suffer?
No, you would have said, you just gotta do it.
What did I accomplish in my 28th year. Well, let's think about it:
  1. I passed Introduction to French.
  2. I gave a well-attended presentation at an importantish conference in Scotland.
  3. I got Yoko pregnant.
  4. We took the kids to Spain for a week.
  5. I got my article finally accepted to Language@Internet.
  6. I decided to have a vasectomy.
  7. I ran just under a marathon.
  8. I lost 12 kgs and kept it off.
  9. I taught three classes over two terms at Middlesex and got some financial impregnability.
  10. I became a much better marker at Birmingham.
  11. I read War and Peace.
  12. I went to Chicago and learned that I was not a religious studies scholar or an American.
  13. I was asked to contribute my first chapter to a book.
  14. I successfully supervised to completion my first two MA theses: one on Korean translations of US News and World Report articles and one perceptions of motivating factors for Turkish tertiary students in learning English.
  15. We took the kids to Turkey. 
  16. I had a vasectomy.
  17. I gave another well-attended talk at a conference in Bristol and met some important people for gave me some important feedback.
  18. I went to Spain again for a conference on metaphor and had a very good talk with my (hopefully) future employer.
  19. I applied for and didn't get five jobs (an accomplishment, I think)
  20. I gave a talk at Lancaster University and agreed to do a funding bid with a couple of good scholars.
  21. We had another baby.
These are all things. I want, however, so much to write more abstract things like 'I became a better husband and father'. I have not. I've gotten worse, actually. I want to say I am more passionate. I'm not. I've lost most of my passion for the body. For sex and passion and art and wine and... all those things. I'm only 29: where did all my passion for the body go.

In one year, I want to only write one thing on my list:
  1. I wrote a book.
  1. I wrote most of a book.
That's all I need in my 29th year. Year thirty can be big things again, moves and futures and travels and minor surgeries, but in the next 12 months, I have one, singular focus that will consume me. The book.

So. I learned something, right? I must have learned something.

Human, All too Human, Day 14

Two people with equally great vanity retain a bad impression of one another after they meet, because each one was so busy with the impression he wanted to elicit in the other that the other made no impression on him; finally both notice that their efforts have failed and blame the other for it.

26 June 2011

Mia comes in 30 minutes or your money back

Yoko got me up a little before two this morning, her hand on my foot, exactly as I imagined it. She said, It's started and was brushing her hair. I asked her how far apart the contractions were and she called the midwife to have them come out for the home birth, but they apologised and said they only had one person on duty, so we would have to go into the hospital. Luckily, Yoko had packed a bag--she woke her mom and we left right away as the contractions, in the five minutes or so we had been up were now stopping her from being able to move or talk when they came. 

I dropped Yoko off at the front of the A&E department where we were supposed to go in and parked. 2:19AM: that's what the parking card said when I left. The Milton Keynes Hospital A&E on early Sunday morning is full of disoriented, confused people in ruffled dance clothes suffering terribly under the fluorescent lights. Yoko was having another contraction in the midst of them--where had the party gone?--and we left the waiting area quickly, moving towards the lift after the contraction passed.

Another quickly came though, we stopped, it passed, and we got in the lift. Another contraction came, and we got out of the lift--rang the bell at the labour ward, got in and another contraction came.

At the ward reception desk, they wanted to send us to a room down the hall, but another contraction came and they decided we would have room 8 instead, the closest room. The midwife came in to check Yoko, but this was the same story as we had with Naomi and Mei: it was, of course, already time. The body was taking over and Yoko got on the bed. The midwife examined her: yes, it was time. Next contraction, no screaming, chin on your chest and push. I explained this to Yoko in Japanese the contraction came and there was Mia's purple head. And then shoulders and then Mia was there, purple and naked and starting to breathe.

The midwife cleaned her up, I cut the cord and the midwife gave Mia to Yoko. 2:47AM. Are you happy with 2:45AM for the certificate? she asked. What an odd question, I thought. Could we have 2:44? 2:43? Could we have tomorrow — tomorrow's my birthday.

Mia was quiet, calm, and disoriented: they brought tea and toast for Yoko and I had to run home to get our pregnancy notebook which I had forgotten. Yoko thinks she started labour at 1:15, but isn't sure because she was asleep and kept thinking she would get up whenever the next contraction came. Like hitting snooze on the alarm clock. 

The sun was just starting to come up when I got back to the hospital around 3:15, angry, disoriented drunks still smoking at the entrance of the A&E and looking more and more like god had somehow wronged them. I had a sudden, unexpected flash of awful and unjustified anger about my visa troubles: certainly I am more valuable to this country than these people.

The staff said we could discharge between 5 and 5:30 if there were no problems. Yoko took a shower and the three of us sat in the room while the sun started to come up, a perfect grey morning in England. The midwife came back with paperwork and we were free to go. 

5:40AM. We walked out of the A&E and a doctor stopped us and said, Didn't I just see you going in? and several of the nurses gathered around to congratulate us. The drunks had more-or-less cleared out as we came through the sliding glass doors, save a guy sleeping on the bench outside

We got home and Yoko's mum and Mei were sleeping on the mat we had out in the lounge for the delivery. Mei woke up after about 20 minutes and the look on her face, the look of realisation, was incredible. Yes, she understood what had happened. Naomi woke up and we all gathered round the baby, talking about whom she looked like. She's definitely a part of our branch of the Pihlaja brand.
More than Mei and Naomi, I appreciated this birth because there was nothing unexpected about the mechanics of it. When I held Mia for the first time, I was confident and strong, not the delicate 24 year old that held Naomi for the first time. Our family was complete now. I found myself talking again about the body and how clear at times of death and birth that you are your body. Everything is stripped away and your body takes over because you are your body. It's an incredible thing to experience: magical the first time, yes, but in a different way, this time was special for its familiarity.

I let out a sigh before I start this concluding paragraph, thinking about the mechanics of this blog entry and listening to the four girls behind me on the sofa. A flood of normalcy comes: how many kCals have I eaten today, what's for dinner, what's the plan for tomorrow... It is the summer again in Milton Keynes, the sun is shining and tomorrow is my birthday. A new stability has emerged, another narrative to develop.

Mia arriveth!

Mia Kawada Pihlaja!

Human, All too Human, Day 13

Whether a man hides his bad qualities and vices or confesses them openly, his vanity wants to gain an advantage by it in both cases: just note how subtly he distinguishes between those he will hide his bad qualities from and those he will face honestly and candidly.
Human, All too Human
A Month of Nietzsche

25 June 2011

Human, All too Human, Day 12

All idealists imagine that the causes they serve are significantly better than the other causes in the world; they do not want to believe that if their cause is to flourish at all, it needs exactly the same foul-smelling manure that all other human undertakings require.

24 June 2011


This is a wonkish, process-oriented blog. No pictures of cute kids or over-the-top statements about anything. No epiphanies. It's all about word counts and making those word counts go up, up, up. 

On Wednesday, I attended the second day of a writer's retreat. The first one was in March and at the time I really dug it. I thought it would be one of these things where you go and bullshit about writing for a couple of hours, do exercises, talk about your writing. No, you went and you wrote. You wrote your goals for the day, you wrote and then you talked a bit about what you wrote and then you went home. I found the whole thing to be quite liberating. There was no Internet, just a bunch of academics sitting around a conference room working on their writing.

Well, Wednesday was the same as in March, except this time I knew what to expect and had made a long list of things to work on. I finished a book chapter that has been on the back burner for a while and worked on an analysis chapter for my PhD, the one on metaphor. One day, about 3,000 words. I also drank a lot of coffee, ate a lot of salad, and avoided eating any cookies.

Yesterday, I had a supervision meeting for June and, in about 5 minutes, talked through my thesis outline: beginning to end. Surprisingly, I could do this, explain exactly how I saw things fitting together in about a 45 piece puzzle, each piece being a subheading. To my shock, my supervision team said (more-or-less), Good, keep writing. My second supervisor said, looking at the outline, 'If this were the table of contents to a book, I would buy it.' This response was much, much different than what I've had up to now which was, Don't think too much about the final product, read more, theorise more. No, this was like, Go ahead: what part of the puzzle will you be putting together next? I went home last night, and after everyone went to bed, I wrote up the whole outline, figuring what I had done already, where I was the weakest, and put together documents for all the parts of the thesis. Two clicks away from any subheading.

Someone said to me on Wednesday, if you want eat an elephant, you have to do it a spoonful at a time. Which apparently is a famous saying.

I got up this morning and came into work to take part in a virtual writer's retreat: apparently a group of people from the Spanish course team do this every week: set aside 4 hours for writing on Friday. I did some 'stub' writing before it started, essentially writing thesis sentences for the first part of the data analysis for my chapter on categories. I wrote about 300 words, but they were all structural sentences that embed in them about 4 additional sentences and some data I need to pull out: probably expandable to ten times the size. Just having the stubs is very important because it gives me the structure I need. And I also saw the makings of another article which will come out of that bit of writing on categories. 

The virtual retreat started and I thought it would be strange, but it wasn't. You signed in, chatted using the OU system for online classes and then started writing. Today, I had to take the comments from my meeting yesterday and add them into my literature review, which became a more complicated process as the bits of writing didn't just go in the literature review, but some needed to go into other chapters. No matter though: as I have it organised at this point with the subheadings, I was able to table what I needed to. I took my supervisors comments on the writing and fixed what I could immediately and the ones that I couldn't, I deleted their comment and replaced it with my own comment that was a command and a task rather than a suggestion.

I did that for an hour, we took 15 minutes off, and then we had another 90 minute session where I kept up my work, moving away from the comments and adding more to the literature review.

At the end of the week, I have written (just as a part of retreats) for about 7 hours. I think my output was probably close to 5,000 words, most of which are good words, particularly as I now know where I need to go with my writing. I perceive a couple of things happening in the next couple of months. Either this keeps up and I continue to be able to see the thesis as a unit that I am just filling in, or I lose the plot and have to rethink it again. If the first option happens, I could have a draft of the thesis several months ahead of time (I'm about 15-20 days ahead of the schedule I made last month at this point). Not that this will mean much: at that point it will go to my supervisors and they will savage it and say, Okay, you have to rework it all. But at that point at least I'll be thinking about a complete document and not bits and pieces.

I'm a bit out of energy at this point: have to add a sentence, a single sentence to the literature review from a book I just went and got in the library. And then maybe I'll take the weekend off, to have a baby.

Every night, I go to bed thinking that around two or three the next morning I will feel that hand I've felt before reach across the bed and say, It's time. It's time now, Stephen, Mia is here. I love birth — can I say that, should I say that? I love watching it. I love how suddenly the body takes over and is possessed by a savage spirit: the baby WILL come, you will not, cannot, should not, could not stop it. And then the quietness afterwards. It comes and goes: a tsunami, a hurricane, a thunderstorm. Here and then done. Hold onto the tree while it passes. 

I also have to think about external examiners and have my first choice, although she's in the States and there isn't funding to bring someone from overseas, unless they are willing to do it electronically, which is definitely a possibility. Things are coming together: let's just hope the government stops all the visa silliness in time for me to make a future here.

Human, All too Human, Day 11

"Delight in an enterprise," they say; but in truth it is delight in oneself, by means of an enterprise.

23 June 2011

Human, All too Human, Day 10

Apparently, Nietzsche has met me.
Ruins as decoration . People who go through many spiritual changes retain some views and habits from earlier stages, which then jut out into their new thinking and acting like a bit of inexplicable antiquity and gray stonework, often ornamenting the whole region.

22 June 2011

Grumpy on Father's Day

Father's Day was great, except I was apprehensive for most of it. Is my thesis and/or new baby and/or ESRC bid and/or body weight on my mind? No, no... of course not.

Figuring resentment out

Last night, Yoko and I got a chance to get away on our second date this month thanks to Yoko's mum being here. We went to Harvester (my favourite restaurant in the UK as they have the salad cart) and then on to Starbucks. We talked about things other than the kids, about the future, about our dreams. I looked into the future for a moment — the baby is coming, yes, but our future has more dates at Starbucks ahead of it. The kids are getting used to us being away: the new one will take her cue from the older ones and in 18 months, tops, we'll be going out twice a month.

Some unintentional archaeology of past came up in this realisation about sexual taboos — namely that men are free to have as much sex as we want, but what we shouldn't get someone pregnant unintentionally. I had never articulated this, although I had experienced the shame that comes from it when we found out that we were going to have Naomi. Naomi was not planned at all, and at the time, everyone around me (this was in Japan, particularly) treated me in a way that I never quite understood, but figured out last night. It was pity: people had pity on me, a 24 year-old English teacher who had knocked someone up (albeit his wife); pity from observing someone do something wrong and having to live with the consequences. The fact that we were married had no bearing on the situation: you would think that it would, but it didn't. My best friends at the time, from all different walks of life and ages, acted like my life was over, that they would stick with me, but things were going to be difficult. A guy, an old English teacher stuck in a dead-end job way outside of Niigata, told me that he gave up everything for his family and I would need to as well. In 20 years, I could think about myself again, but not before then. Not having experienced any of it before and being scared — I suppose I should admit how scared, weak, and insecure I was — made me particularly vulnerable to what others said. Work too, I remembered as I talked to Yoko last night, everyone at work treated me in the same way: you dumb sap, god help you.

Yoko's experience was, of course, wildly different. Getting pregnant after having wanted a child for so long:  Naomi was the ultimate success. Everyone around her praised her, she was overjoyed. But I wasn't — our new marriage, struggling as new marriages do anyway, had snagged badly, been retarded from an unfettered, successful rise that seemed only a week earlier to be completely without limit. And then in a moment I felt foreign again, like everything was out of control, like the lights had gone out and I was feeling for walls to guide me to a way out.

You dumb sap: that's how I felt. It was a deep shame, made deeper by the fact that I had been so chaste myself before marriage and hadn't acquired the knowledge that I needed to have been more adept in avoiding pregnancy and the only people around me I could talk to about it--well, I couldn't, of course, talk to. What's wrong with you, man? I carried the weight of the shame around like an albatross, until the moment Naomi was born and I saw her face. At that moment, the shame was gone. She was there, she was mine, and suddenly, the way you would expect evolutionary processes to make sense of these things, it made perfect sense. I had done what I was put on the earth to do and it felt right, inexplicably and perfectly right.

Now, four years later, Yoko pregnant with Mia, I am less ashamed, more confident, more experienced, more aware. Naomi was not planned, but I drew strength from the hardship, made a life that was arguably more secure, more profitable, more bright. My experience with Naomi also helped mitigate the unexpected coming of Mei. We moved, started a new life, and Mei was just a part of the new life.
Four years is a long time to take to figure this out, but sitting in Starbucks at six-thirty last night I realised what I needed to say along: there is nothing to be ashamed of, there was nothing to be ashamed of. I realised why I had been angry for 2006-2007 and why I was still having flashes of anger about it. I resented it, yes, resented Yoko, resented my friends for not supporting me, resented society, resented my Evangelical Christian upbringing, and being able to identify this resentment made it suddenly disappear. I thought back on the people who looked at me in that pitiful way and I finally knew what it was: I understood it and its impact on me. Yes, that was difficult, but it's over now. There is no shame anymore: we can all, as Whitman says, be free to rejoice.

Human, All too Human, Day 9

People who catch fire rapidly quickly become cold, and are therefore by and large unreliable. Therefore, all those who are always cold, or act that way, benefit from the prejudice that they are especially trustworthy, reliable people: they are being confused with those others who catch fire slowly and burn for a long time.

21 June 2011

Takashi Murakami and Google

Anyone catch the Google homepage today? Takashi Murakami is everything, all the time.


I'm not, it turns out, a big fan of talking about intent.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours talking to (noted, famous, influential) Ray Gibbs, who is, among other things, a leading metaphor scholar. He was in the UK for a couple of days to work with my supervisor and she had carved out a couple of hours of his time for me and one of her other students. An amazing experience, really, to sit around with them and pretend like I had anything to say about anything.

We got talking about intent and deliberateness which is an argument in metaphor studies right now: whether or not you can talk about someone deliberately 'intending' to use a metaphor. It came up in Spain, it came up yesterday, it's coming up in my research on impoliteness: however you cut it, intention in any real sense is impossible to recover. I say this in my literature review (subject to revision):
As Edwards shows in his analysis of police interviews, even when intentionality is the explicit topic of enquiry, what an individual reports about their intention is not entirely reliable, to say nothing of how others perceive the intent. To account for this, Culpeper (2008) employs Gibbs' definition of intention as the 'dynamic, emergent properties of interactive social/cultural/historical moments within which people create and make sense of different human artefacts' (1999, p. 17). In this sense, 'intention' is not a static artefact for the analyst or the speaker to recover, but dependent on and changing with user reports of their intention (and indeed, perception of user intent).
I'm too lazy to add the references, but Gibbs there is the Gibbs who was here yesterday: a funny experience when I was sounding off on intention and realised suddenly, saying outloud, 'Well, I mean, I cite you on this point.'

Anyway, during the course of the discussion, I made the point that when you intend to have a child (as I am thinking about child-bearing 90% of my day now), it is the result of actions that are perhaps not always meant to lead to having a baby. Everyone laughed, but my supervisor laughed in a particular way and said, 'Yeah, like you intended to have another baby' or something to that effect in relation to Mia, and in a way that made me suddenly cross. But we had intended to get pregnant: we had stopped using birth control after several serious discussions leading to a conscious decision to try to have a baby. Isn't that 'intent'? It certainly wasn't, as my supervisor seemed to suggest, an accident, a slip up, like I was a seventeen year old who hadn't worn a condom. I hadn't acted foolishly--the opposite, I had acted nobly. It was an intentional decision of love. I suddenly wanted to cuss and shout. I did intend this, goddammit: who are you, you of all people, to say that I didn't!

As I rode home, I realised how important common sense intention is in the real world, where we are always evaluating the intentions of others and telling stories about their intentions, based on our own biases, and coming up with all sorts of silly, non-empirical stories. In this case, my supervisor's perception of my intent is just based on her very limited perception of the situation, certainly not malicious, and it isn't of any consequence. Even if it was, how would I ever prove my intention? There really are only two people who know what 'actually' happened, and even what 'actually happened' is submerged in our perceptions of it, our stories about it.

I remember this from high school suddenly: someone was spreading a rumour that I was sleeping with my girlfriend, the worst of both worlds in the Evangelical community I was in, all the stigma of behaving poorly with none of the pleasure. Someone said to me at the time, 'Take care of your character and don't worry about your reputation.' It might have been, 'Let god worry about your reputation,' but the same point applies: you can control what you do, never the stories people tell about you. People tell great stories about you sometimes, they tell bad stories about you sometimes. You tell stories about yourself to try to make sense of what you do, you tell stories about others to make sense of yourself in the world. There are stories everywhere, all kinds of stories.

Human, All too Human, Day 8

We often make the mistake of actively opposing a direction, or party, or epoch, because we coincidentally get to see only its superficial side, its stunted aspect, or the inescapable "faults of its virtues"--perhaps because we ourselves have participated to a large degree in them. Then we turn our back on them and seek an opposite direction; but it would be better to look for the strong, good sides, or to develop them in ourselves. To be sure, it takes a stronger gaze and a better will to further that which is evolving and imperfect, rather than to penetrate its imperfection and reject it.

20 June 2011

Google scholared

Yes! Wicked happy that the Language@Internet article is coming up two.

Reinstalling, fathering, or a space to call home

Having troubles with Endnote from Friday, I decided that what I needed was to re-install it from the server when I got to work, so today, I got to work and set about what I thought would be a simple task. Well, it was more-or-less a simple task once I realised I was using a version of Endnote that was, it seems, about 3 versions old. I went about upgrading until I got to the newest version that seemed to work with Word 2003 and I thought, great, I’ve solved my problem.

After an hour or so of getting nothing done but a bit of reading, I thought, you know, I should probably just update Word as well because I have been using 2003 (still on XP) and, what the hell, I should go up to 2007 at least so that I learn how to use it as I’ve heard horror stories about changing over and how hard 2007 was. Obviously, at this point, 2007 is obsolete, so I updated to 2010: the whole office suite. I removed 2003, sat around (well, stood around) for about ten minutes waiting for 2010 to install and… it opened. Endnote worked. My documents looked the same. I started using it a bit, got acquainted with ‘the ribbon’ (lame name, dogs) and… There was no drama. It was a very Apple-like experience. Everything is just… working. My e-mail stuff works without any changes to settings. My .pdf exporter works. It all just… works.

Strange, I thought. No drama means that I guess I have to get back to work.

Well, yes, I did get back to work and found a couple of very good articles. Well, ‘found’: a couple of people I have met in my wanderings have pointed me to important places and an article came out last week in the Journal of Pragmatics that is about YouTube and antagonism: perfect, right? The literature review in that article is really pretty much what I need to do in my thesis, only expanded to include everything else I’m interested in. A couple of people got back to me about my ESRC bid stuff too with some good potential contacts and a ton of good suggestions for reading. More work to be done, for sure, but someone used the word ‘worthy’ in describing my idea: ‘worthy’ is a very, very important thing for getting funding.

Yoko’s mum came on Friday which has really been great. Someone to help take the stress off, another person for the girls to play with, particularly as Yoko edges closer and closer to the birth and because increasingly more miserable and ready for the baby to be born. Yoko's mum is also an incredibly easy person to have around: she has a servant's heart in the truest sense and establishes a sense of security and stability. Things are suddenly taken care of.

I have been anxious though and short with everyone, locking myself in my office, not sure of what to do if I leave. This will pass as the summer passes and we normalise, but for now, I’m just an ass to be around, grounded in a deep sense of insecurity: lose/lose.

Yesterday, the womenfolk went off to church and I went to the bike store to acquire new tyres, which my parents are getting me for my birthday. I also got new brake pads, even though I wasn’t convinced that I needed them, but after installing everything on the bike, it was clear that everything I had added was quite needed. Suddenly I was going much faster, stopping much better—generally much, much more secure riding which makes for more relaxed and faster riding. Having done so much work on my bike over the years, I’ve also gotten a bit better at fixing problems that in 2008 would have taken me an afternoon to get through. Now I know what to tighten, how much to tighten, which screws to check, etc. The bike, now with 700x28 tyres, as opposed to 700x32, is thinner and lighter. Very nice riding, to be sure.

I am also, believe it or not, turning 29 a week from today. With the baby coming, the uncertain future and the feeling of slowly getting older, I’m in a funk. My weight has been higher although I have not been eating more: the worst of both worlds. You care for yourself, you don’t eat when you feel like you’re entitled to and still, this morning, a rolling average of 71.68kgs. Up 400 grams over the week. Really? It should normalise this week, but the equation is not working anymore. kCals in is not kCals out. My body is not working in the way I want to it.

What could be more frustrating than that. Nothing, I’ll tell you what. Nothing.

Human, All too Human, Day 7

Whoever lives for the sake of combating an enemy has an interest in the enemy's staying alive.

19 June 2011

Human, All too Human, Day 6

The champions of truth are hardest to find, not when it is dangerous to tell it, but rather when it is boring.

18 June 2011

Language@Internet Article

It took me a while, a long while, to get this right, but thanks to the very, very patient work of Susan Herring, I think something good came out of it. Go now and behold!
Pihlaja, Stephen. (2011) Cops, popes, and garbage collectors: Metaphor and antagonism in an atheist/Christian YouTube video thread.Language@Internet, 8/1. Available online at:
Still looks like there are a couple of errors in the formatting, but should be fixed this weekend.

Human, All too Human, Day 5

In interaction with people, a benevolent dissembling is often required, as if we did not see through the motives for their behaviour.
Human, All too Human
A Month of Nietzsche

17 June 2011

Human, All too Human, Day 4

We attack not only to hurt a person, to conquer him, but also, perhaps, simply to become aware of our own strength.
Human, All too Human
A Month of Nietzsche

16 June 2011


Yesterday, a rare occurrence: a flat tyre on my bicycle. I had to walk the bicycle up to the city centre, changed the tube in front of the store and then go back in to pump it up. I thought that I had solved the problem, but in changing it without the proper tools, I had pinched the new tube and broken it as well. Another trip to the cycle shop this morning. I spent £9.98 on tubes and this got me thinking.

Cycling is one of the rare convergences in my life in that it brings together a few important things I really believe and care about: my health, independence from technology, saving money, endurance, and the outdoors. I have been cycling to work exclusively since moving to Bradwell Common two years ago and, since last April, have gone just about 3,400 kms. This is when I changed the battery in my odometer and lost all my old klicks. Still 3,400 kms. How much would that have cost me if I had driven?

Anyway, £9.98 is nothing. I look forward to spending money on the bicycle over the car because you immediately feel the difference. New tube led to filling the tyres with air led to adjusting my breaks led to fixing my panniers finally. All that means I rode faster and harder this morning. Independent! Strong! Kill me now, god, please: I want to be immortalised like this!
.     .     .
The baby, you ask? Still inside of Yoko, unless she has made a very clever getaway. I doubt this. My mobile is on, ready to ring. Best not to ask Yoko how she feels. Mei, it's going to be hard for you when the baby comes. You become second fiddle, sweetheart. Don't worry: daddy'll still hold you.

Yoko's mom comes tomorrow, a welcome sign. I thought of this on Monday: Last weekend was the last weekend we had as the four of us. Yoko's mom will come tomorrow and then the baby and then Yoko's dad and then my parents and then it will be the five of us.

The five of us. Gotta get used to saying that.

And GOTTA get back to my writing.

Human, All too Human, Day 3

In conversation, it is largely a matter of habit whether one decides for or against the other person: both make sense
Human, All too Human
A Month of Nietzsche

15 June 2011

Tiny Beer

A while back, I discovered this great French beer Brasserie at Aldi. Well, great in the sense that it comes in a 25cl bottle, a perfect size for someone not wanting to get killed on the empty kCals in drinks, beer in particular. Love the taste, not the kCals. Although it is hard to get buzzed on one of these, you gotta make a trade-off between your weight and the feeling of being a little bit above everything.

Human, All Too Human, Day 2

We like to be out in nature so much because it has no opinion of us.
Human, All too Human
A Month of Nietzsche

14 June 2011

Human, All too Human, Day 1

As I slip into my 29th year, surrounded by the birth of another daughter and my PhD, I have been draw to the shorter quotes in Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human. So, after the limited success of my month of Walker Evans, I give you a month of Nietzsche. Some quotes are good, some are not so good, and some are great. I hope to represent a good mix here. Don't worry, I will avoid racist and sexist extracts, although I do recognise, as one always must when quoting Nietzsche, his more pernicious tendencies. I don't think this negates his writing: as I said when I first started reading him in the summer of 2009: Nietzsche put his finger on the problem, not the solution. So. Here we go:
People who comprehend a matter in all its depth seldom remain true to it forever. For they have brought its depths to the light; and there is always much to see about it that is bad.
Human, All too Human
A Month of Nietzsche

13 June 2011

The kind of person I am

  1. Read visa site
  2. Get cross
  3. Read more news about visas
  4. Got crosser
  5. Think, there's gotta be something I can do
  6. Google MP's (member of parliament) name
  7. Send cordial e-mail to staff member
  8. Get meeting 8 July at 4pm with MP
Well. That's something, I suppose. Now, I just have to decide what I'm going to say.

-13 Days

12 June 2011

Epic Meal Time

After eating too much yesterday, I'm trying to overcome, working on making the most epic salad ever.

Summer Lettuce
Red Kidney Beans
Cider Vinegar
Handful of cous-cous
Jamacian Tabasco
Two slices of ham
Red Pepper
Italian spices
Half a slice of toast

Just about 300 kCals, I think.

11 months

of healthy living under my belt. This month was okay. Ate too much yesterday (a date with Yoko that ended with me drinking Irish coffee). Had a massive drop after my day in Lancaster (no water in the body). Otherwise, I did okay. Even enough. I decided that essentially my goal is to keep my highs under 72 kgs. If I go over 72 kgs, I will take evasive actions. Otherwise, let the good times roll. Although I do need to start eating in a way that gives me energy all of the time. This last week I really struggled with my energy. Hopefully I can up my caloric intake to match my output and get my body to start burning the energy it's using instead of trying to slow me down.

10 June 2011

Stability in the system

I know this moment of stability is about to be blown open by a tiny, screaming baby, but for other reasons, I have been a little bit off balance today.

When I got done with my presentation, I came into town in Lancaster and expected to spend the 6 to 8pm period in McDonalds, enjoying Wifi and chicken salad. I was able to do this for about 30 minutes before a woman told me that I needed to move: she was closing the first floor section where I was and although I could go downstairs, I had to move. This should have been no problem, but I made a mistake and packed up instead of staying.

I was still hungry after eating at McDonald's, but at McDonald's the Internet had distracted me enough that I wasn't thinking about it. Out on the street though, I was very hungry, ravenously so. Knowing, as I do, exactly how many kilocalories I had already consumed, I was a bit concerned that I was going to eat too much, but it got to the point that I just had to eat. I got a sandwich and some other stuff, enough to keep me under my limit for the day, but right at the limit. I ate ravenously and was still hungry.

A metaphor, of course: being hungry is a metaphor. Yesterday was the highest I had been in a while insofar as getting what I wanted. I had been successful, but that only meant that this thing that had been consuming me for the last week or so had moved into a new, more difficult stage and although I had achieved something that was for me, quite significant, I was realising that I wasn't going to be able to explain how big of a deal it was (for me at least) and that I had probably gotten all the satisfaction I would from it. The next day would be another set of challenges and it would mean nothing. My train was still two hours from leaving, if the train were coming at least I would be able to get away, be able to fall asleep for a couple of hours, but it was like being in suspended animation. Nowhere to go and all the shops had already closed. I went to the station, had another cup of coffee, was still hungry.

I got up this morning and weighed myself, thinking that I felt empty. I was. Still though, no satisfaction. It didn't mean I could eat more because I knew that all I had done was drive all the moisture out of my body from walking the day before. But what I wanted really was to sit and eat and eat and eat until I couldn't eat anymore. I wanted, if I'm honest, to binge: eat a whole cake. A whole package of Oreos. What a trap, I thought to myself: I suppose this is the moment you learn to be healthy like when you run a long distance and it doesn't count, nothing you do counts until the third hour. And then you push the limit, you improve, you become better. I have been in this place before, I thought, and need more than anything to stay the course continue on in equilibrium instead of giving in. Eat, yes, but don't lie to yourself about what eating can do for you.

I got on my bike and rode to work, made a claim for my train ticket yesterday, talked to my colleague who knew that I had been in Lancaster and how much it meant to me, ate a very early lunch and realised I wasn't making any progress. I decided to leave my bike at work and walk home. Walking would cure this. I walked over the football pitch behind the university and was struck by how suddenly tired I was. I got to the edge of the pitch and threw down my bags and fell asleep on the ground. A moment of stability.

For some reason, the sounds of the cars in the distance sounded like the past to me. Like America. Why was I remembering America suddenly--what memory was this? I was, as you are when you sleep on a cloudy day outside, slipping in and out of different levels of consciousness. Just on the edge of deep sleep, but still, the cars in the distance.

The story ends there, laid out on the football pitch, trying to shake the weight of the world. A baby is coming any day now. I had sat on the sofa in the morning with Mei as she watched a DVD and I told Yoko about my trip. Naomi came down and hugged me. She needs to get school uniforms for the first time. Already, I thought, as she crawled onto my lap and looked in my eyes: already we have had a fifth of our time together. You're a little girl now, you need school uniforms.

But don't you know you can't grow up before me? I need to beat you to adulthood. Promise me you won't catch up with me too soon.

New Buckle

I bought this buckle online the other other day, missing the fact that it was a 'women's' buckle. It didn't look that sparkly online. It was quite sparkly.

No matter, I drilled out most stones. Looks older, more worn. Problem solved.

I ultimately took at the stones out, even the ones in the middle.

09 June 2011

Plan A, or why I was in Lancaster

A moment of stability in the system: I am walking down the hill from Lancaster University.

You might recall a couple of months ago I was talking about doing a postdoc and then talking about how it wasn't going to work out and then... god, I don't know where I last landed. It's been up and down. Anyway, I made this list about possibilities a while back, and you'll recall that one of the possibilities was:
  • Good case scenario: I don't get the [postdoc] grant, but am able to find other means of funding and/or the university takes me on to do some other work.
I actually had misjudged this as a 'good' case scenario and not 'best' because I didn't take into account that
  • this would be a job with a Tier 2 (working) visa,
  • it would last 2 years and not 1,
  • it would involve collaborating with well-known researchers and potentially getting some joint publications, and
  • it would position me much better for a teaching position at the end because I would have a full three years to look for work.
Well, this scenario seems to have worked out, or at least the potential for it has worked out. As I was in Lancaster to give my talk on antagonism on YouTube, I was also meeting with a couple of professors I quite respect and hope to do some collaborative work with. The result of the meeting was that we decided to make an application for funding in which they would be the Primary Investigators, and I would be a named research assistant, meaning that if we win the bid, I will work for the project for 18-24 months as a researcher, doing some teaching there and at Birmingham (as I have up to now), and working on my own research. Really, the best Plan A. 

I say best: it's the best for me becoming... well, something in the academic world. There are easier paths and ones that would lead to more money quickly. But in the multiverse, the universe in which I have the potential to become an editor of a well-known journal, a professor at a good university in the UK, famous among a small group of applied linguists, author of several books... That universe takes this path. The other universes go different ways. Require different things.

Now, it's certainly not a given: we have to apply and win the bid. I have to finish my PhD on time and get a visa. But the acceptance rate for these bids is closer to 15% (much better than postdocs or jobs) and likely higher considering the calibre of the professors I'm applying with and the very high calibre of the linguistics department in Lancaster (Numero uno, baby) as well as being the heart of critical approaches to discourse analysis (Marx, Foucault, etc.). Getting the visa should also be less difficult. Even if we don't get the funding, I will be working with people who are good to work with. And the fact that they are interested in me and my work can only be a good sign. 

Again, far, far from a given, but... Am I excited? Uh, yeah. Yeah I am. 

06 June 2011

Two New rules

  • New rule: I am going to take a picture of the receipt of every major purchase (over £20) I make. Kettle button broke this weekend, still under warranty, no receipt. Being, however, my father's son, I called the company, complained, and they said if I send it up to them in Manchester they'll fix/replace it. Loss of maybe £4, I guess, but better than having to buy a new one. UPDATED: Turns out I DID save the receipt and could return it at the store! Great!
  • New rule: I gotta do something about my tendency to think about everything in terms of structure. Perhaps this is related to marking when I see the structure of an essay and can tell if it is going to be effective or not. Anyway, it's been happening when I watch films: I tend to play at 2x parts of the film in which I know what will happen and at 4x parts that are just montages of things like weddings. I got Up in the Air from Lovefilm for some reason, and watched the whole thing in like a half hour. Okay, this is the conversation where they get interested in each other, here is where they go to the party and character X lets her hair down for the first time. Here's the scene where Clooney's character starts to realise the way he's living his life is not fulfilling. Blah, blah, blah. I cancelled Lovefilm this morning, not sure how to explain the problem to the guy on the other end. 'I think too structurally, I can't enjoy most films any more and I don't have time to search out good independent things to watch.' 'You don't enjoy films, sir?' 'Well, I mean, I don't have the time. That's it, I don't have the time.' 

Ayn Rand, the Republicans, and the Evangelicals

On some level, if you believe in free market and/or Libertarian principles, you will probably have been influenced by Ayn Rand. BBC2 is doing a great series called, 'All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace' which is another great Adam Curtis documentary. The first episode was all about... well, a lot of things, but it really focused on the influence of Ayn Rand in Conservative (big 'C') thinking in the States (or in the BBC documentary, 'thinking in the States'), particularly the notions of individual 'responsibility'.

Now, Objectivism is a godless, selfish philosophy, that's obvious. The Republican party, though run by godless, selfish people (like the Democratic party, let's be fair), gets its bread and butter from a religious base who have no idea what Objectivism is, but do think that Jesus said somewhere in the Bible, 'God helps those who help themselves'. Faith is a veneer because they basically hold most of the main tenets of Objectivism, just with some judeo-Christian myth mixed in (Hey, you have to take personal responsibility for your sins and accept Jesus as your personal lord and saviour. None of this Catholic, we're-all-in-the-same-boat funny business.) What happens when these two explicitly things interact? This happens:

The problem, Americanvalues.net, is that one of the 'values' that you have is 'personal responsibility' and that 'personal responsibility' is a dog whistle for Objectivism. Once you start to say, We want all the philosophy of Objectivism that we like, only with Jesus, you sort of run into a wall. Because Objectivism requires that there be no Jesus, and Jesus requires that you go out and start caring about other people, even to your own detriment (well, at least in theory...) So. What is a good Republican to do?

Well, if you're a godless Objectivist who wants to rule the world, you get someone like Sarah Palin, I guess, who has the face of Christianity, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and the hubris to be unable to recognise that the two are in conflict with each other. Then you manipulate her (easy enough) and you get what you want.

If you're a Republican on the ground? Well, I guess you can't really think about how much of a conflict there is between these two ideas, can you? That's not a problem though, especially if you're talented at cognitive dissonance anyway... But how do you, if you think about it, just keep taking these people (Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Donald Trump, etc.) at their word that they are Bible-believing Christians?

Come to think of it, most of the Christians that influenced me growing up were walking contradictions when it came to this: free market Objectivists in political philosophy; truly empathetic, loving people in their religious philosophy. And none of them talking about the conflict between the two.

But wouldn't a budget based on Biblical principles, particularly the book of Luke, look pretty Liberal? How, Faithinpubliclife, would it be different than what Paul Ryan wants? I thought you wanted the same things: small government, more personal responsibility. Or do you really want what George Bush (a more sellable, smarter version of Sarah Palin) gave you: all the talk of Christianity with all the philosophy of Ayn Rand...

It's a tough situation and makes you admire Reagan even more for getting the Evangelicals to trust him...

Fascinating, though. Fascinating. Episode Three tonight!

June in England

Ah, there you are June
in England, a lover not
a fighter. 

05 June 2011

21 Days

Baby coming in 21 days. Midwife came over yesterday to check the house for the home birth: everything checked out. Once we hit tomorrow (37 weeks) then we can have the baby at home. I will head out this afternoon to buy painters plastic: it's what you have to buy. And then we wait. I have my presentation at Lancaster on Thursday which is really the last big, important thing that needs to get done before the birth. If we can make it until then, I will be happy. We'll make it until then, I'm sure. Yoko's mom will come on 17 June and then everything will be in place.

I'm actually doing something more than just giving a presentation in Lancaster, related to all the post-doc drama. I'll have more to say on Friday, I think. I hope. Until then, though, I'll just say that I'm giving a presentation.

Mia will be Mia:  by the way. Each of those characters is a separate link. Check it out.

I have been marking this weekend. Marked a lot, very, very quickly. I was trying avoid doing it on the weekend, but they came on Friday so I didn't really have a choice. I have another couple coming tomorrow, I think, which is good for the coin purse. Being able to do them quickly though, is really great. I'm at about 40-45 minutes from start to finish right now. At 30 mins for some of them. I'm also saving them now based on the number of the essay so that I can go back and see common comments made. I had 4 people answering the same question this time and they all essentially wrote the same essay. So it was very quick work. More money, more problems though, right?

No. Money solves problems.

01 June 2011


L had the courage to post her's, here's mine. Let's get this thing done on time.
I say courage because these things are likely to change and the changes might embarrass one down the line: 'This is what I thought I was going to do? N00b.' My supervisory team also seems to frown on these sorts of practices, but I find them useful. Anyway, I am already realising one mistake: I will need to submit my final draft one more time to my supervisors before they approve it for 'official' submission, meaning that the end date will likely become what I want to avoid: 30 September 2012. Nature of the beast, I guess.