30 September 2011

Third PhD Year

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

God bless the Indian Summer

Cloudy Mountains

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

27 September 2011

New students, old students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 September 2011


de Kooning's Pink Angels

I can't seem to be able to sleep at all recently. Go to bed at 10, get up at 1, get up at 4:00-4:30. Repeat. It's related to getting my eating sorted after the diet and heavy exercise. I thought about running today, but I decided against it: the bike riding is enough cardio for me at this point, I think, and I've been doing crunches and push-ups to maintain my muscle mass. Otherwise, I think I am going to try to settle on eating between 2,700 and 2,900 kCals of balanced food a day. This should cover my standing and biking, and allow me to not eat different amounts of food on different days unless my body says so. Trying to get to a normal place, like normal people, who eat different amounts of food on different days and aren't bothered by it.

I also did a financial assessment to see where we are and where we're going to be in a year or so. If we are staying in the UK, we need to think about beginning to save to get a house. If that is the path, I think the best thing of us to do is to get a relatively cheap place to rent and try to save as much as we can over the next five years so that when we can get a mortgage, we can put a significant amount into a house straight away. Of course, if we leave the country, we need to think about saving to move, probably between £7,000-10,000, depending on where we go and how much is covered by my next employer. In the medium term, however, I think renting cheaply and saving is the best route for us.

Could I be thinking about a five year plan for my life? I could. I could. After five years though, we'd have to decide what we want out of life. And we'd definitely have to think seriously about where we want to settle. Obviously a long way to go, but... Worth thinking about.


How perfect is this:

22 September 2011


I have been at work updating the pages at the top of the blog, namely my reading list and the list of entries I feel are 'Keepers' over the years. I am still working on filling out the Keepers page, but there's something for every year. Only if, of course, you're interested.

21 September 2011

Slightly reducing cost

Current costs for UK Tier 2 working visas are £550 for the main applicant and £275 for each dependent, a grand total of £1650 for my little family. Well, some good news: in the application for funding I am helping to write and will work on, provided it comes through, we can ask the funding agency (the ESRC) for the money for my visa to be covered, a reduction of £550 or 1/3 of the overall cost. £1,100 is still a lot to cover, but certainly not unachievable.

This news--along with a good meeting with the primary investigators on the project on Monday, the increasing chance that I will be teaching again this term and next, and my upcoming trip to NYC--has me positive again about the future here. Nothing is uncomplicated of course, but if some part of our visas costs are consistently covered as we go forward, my interest in staying will increase by exactly the percentage of the cost that is covered. So 33% of the cost covered? I am 33% more interested in staying here.

Still some hurdles to get over: will we move to Lancaster or not, for example. I am sort of leaning towards it, again, thinking that it is ultimately best for me to embed in the university there rather than try to spend as much time away as possible. Particularly if I hope to work there in the long run, which might, of course, be a possibility. Who knows though: there are so many things that have to happen before I can begin to think about it. But I'll tell you, dear reader, I have the sneaking, sinking suspicion that this is where we will be in 12 months. Call it a hunch.

20 September 2011

Things I'm thankful for, September 2011

Things I am thankful for:
  • A patient wife
  • My health
  • A future that is, even at its worst, not bad
  • My standing desk
  • The new Wilco Album
  • Trips to NYC and Germany
  • An encouraging e-mail from my supervisor
  • The ESRC bid
  • My metaphor analysis notes document and all the clarity it's given me
  • The ability to ride my bike to work
  • Another year of funding
  • London
  • Teaching for the 2011-2012 school year
  • Limited financial security in the short term
  • Potential possibilities for employment in three to five countries
  • Three daughters: no more, no less
  • Less concern about my weight and diet
  • Cous-cous

19 September 2011


There has been some confusion in the house recently around what prayer is exactly. Mei, the other day, was telling Yoko that when people come to the house for church and pray, they are all sleeping. It's sleeping time. I, of course, don't have any problem with this conceptualisation of prayer, but it has led to some more discussions among the women in the house about prayer. 

Naomi, who likes the idea of prayer, was showing Yoko yesterday that she could pray. She first prayed that Ms Hawkins, our landlord whom the girls call 'Ohki Mummy' or 'Big Mummy, would feel better, then she prayed that Yoko would feel better (as Yoko has a cold) and then she prayed that Daddy wouldn't get angry at all today.

I was standing in the kitchen when I heard this and just about started crying. Children: this is why, I suppose, you have them. You can argue with adults, question their motives, pull apart what action they are trying to accomplish with what they say. Not kids, not kids attempting to pray, listing off all the things that they wish could get better. There it is. The truth about you, as clear as day.

I have been going through old blog entries, all the ones that I imported from Xanga a long, long time ago, and trying to put titles on them and give them labels. I finished going through them today, but the process was really interesting. When I met Yoko in 2005, things changed. All of my posts before that were about music and my strange experiences in Japan. Things got notably more serious in September 2006, when we found out that Yoko was pregnant. I stopped talking about music and I started talking about... other things. Somewhere in 2008 or 2009 there is also, I think, a literary shift in the blog, some time when I started to orient more towards my writing. I'm not sure when this happened, but I'll find it.

I'll try to be less angry, Nana. I'm sorry for being angry.

18 September 2011

The Dead Sea

Thanks, Berto!

3 come and gone so fast

Yesterday, we celebrated 3 years in the UK. Three years? Just like that: I blinked.

We went to London, not to celebrate, but because I had been complaining all week to Yoko: my life is so damn boring, I was saying. All I do is go to work and come home. My life is here and there. So we went to London: you get on a train--an hour later you are strolling to Soho. Here we are, I thought. Yes, this has been worth it.

Has it been worth it? Yes, yes, of course it has. It's been hard, very hard, but worth it. I'm looking at my options for next year, and they are all options that I didn't have three years ago--wouldn't have had if I stayed in Japan.

We ate sushi bentos in Soho square. We walked down to Piccadilly Circus, had coffee. Walked up to the National Gallery and I was overly (OVERLY) happy to discover that if you enter the Piccadilly side of the building, you can easily, very easily, get up and down to the galleries with a pram.

You know what's amazing? The 19th century rooms at the National Gallery. You start in the English rooms which are... uninspiring. There's Turner: Turner's okay, I guess. But you go one room over and suddenly you are in France and France in the 19th century is like an explosion of colour. Having learned a bit more about Impressionism from the BBC, I was explaining things to Yoko about the paintings, things I suddenly know about umbrellas and Seurat.

We then walked up Charing Cross road: we got rained on, I was angry and hurried. We rode the 16:13 train home, back at the house after a stop at the supermarket at 18:00. My life, my family.

This morning, I'm skipping Yoko's church to do some part-time work for Birmingham, and then starting to look at ESRC standard funding bid applications. Tomorrow, I have a meeting with the primary investigators for the bid I'm going to be named on. We have 3 1/2 months to write our bid. Cycles: I have been looking for jobs because I have been bored. Now, I will begin working on this bid and I will be completely swallowed, consumed by it. I've been complaining about visa fees, security, etc. But talking to other people... If this bid comes through and I can work with the people that I would work with, I would be pretty stupid to turn it down for money and security in the short term. Again, it's very unlikely that we'll be successful, but... I have to try and I have to start acting like I'm 29 and haven't paid my dues, not 40 and looking to settle into a big leather chair.

We'll see. The choices are all going to become clear in the next 8 months. Either way, it will be over soon, and now I have to focus and enjoy what I have, not be continually obsessed about what I don't have.

14 September 2011


London Luton to Berlin Schoenefeld
 Dep 20 November 2011 12:55
Arr 20 November 2011 15:45
Flight 2103

Berlin Schoenefeld to London Luton
 Dep 23 November 2011 17:00
Arr 23 November 2011 18:00
Flight 2104

When the sun comes out

I really like this picture of our garden, for some reason. My life, simply put.
After a miserable Sunday, the sun seems to have come out, metaphorically and literally. The good things that have happened included:
  • A positive meeting with my supervisors in which we agreed to an endgame. Just tell me what to do next and I'll do it. If you let me off by myself I do this: I write a shoddy thesis draft. Well, now we have timescales and clear writing assignments to do.1 August submission deadline goal, leading to completion by the end of September. So...if I hit all my goals, I'll be there next summer. My main supervisor told me, however, that I was too defensive. She's right. I am too defensive. I immediately started trying to defend myself: Hey! I'm not defensive! I'm insecure! It would be much easier to complain if my supervisors weren't so good. They are very good at what they do: as I always say to people, all you want out of a supervisor is someone who gets the best work out of you.
  • The first writing task (of three) that they gave me to complete for our next supervision has also been really good in helping me get over a hump. Made clear what I'm doing and how I might better present my analysis. The thing is, in my shoddy thesis draft...it's all there, it's just obscured. I think, when it comes time to write-up the real thing for them, although they weren't happy with my initial draft (or what they saw of it), it will put me well ahead.
  • International Visual Methods conference at the OU, which I have been stewarding for. This involves wearing a dumb-looking purple shirt and helping people. I am not good at a lot things, but putting on a dumb purple shirt and giving directions around campus? Well, I don't want to brag, but... No, it's been fun. I'm such a social butterfly--it really suits me, I think. Is this a job I could get? Like Wal-mart greeter?
  • Every day is a new country that we might move to. Japan? Spain? Sweden? UAE? Finland? I was talking about this to the main organiser of the conference, What do I do? I asked. Every day it's something different. I'm going to drive my wife CRAZY. You do what you're doing, he said: You put out all your feelers and you go with the one that works out. And then, in 20 years time, you have a career.
  • I stopped weighing myself and am keeping a more vague count of kCal intake. Really nice. Really feel like I have adjusted to normal life. Normal people don't weigh everything they eat. They don't think about food constantly. The practice of it was great. I learned a lot. I have so much more knowledge when I eat now. But my new normal is healthy and I can trust that. I don't have to work out everyday. I can have a bagel. I feel much, much better. I don't want to be X kgs with X amount of body fat, I decided. I want to be healthy and happy and eat well without thinking about it. 
Wearing a bow tie makes everyone around you 10% happier. This is, I think, empirically testable. 

Now, back to directing people around: Can I help you?

12 September 2011

Six years ago

I was falling in blurry, unfettered love.


What an odd letter to receive in the post.

No congratulations? No period at the end of the letter? It's just over like that? I also like that my 'sperm tests' are now sterile, but not me. I'm not sterile as an individual. That's great news.


11 September 2011

When you are alone

At six thirty this morning, I was lying on my back, staring at the Milton Keynes hospital A&E ceiling, trying to stay above the pain and think about loneliness. Let me explain.

Milton Keynes has opened a new Chinese supermarket which is a lot things: amazing, huge, huge, and amazing. Anything Asian you (a Chinese take-away shop owner) might want. Including lettuce and cabbage, both of which were on sale yesterday. We dropped about £50 there, no small feat for a PhD-supported family, but what the hell: it was new and we were enjoying ourselves.

We came home and made a lot of great good on the BBQ, enough that when it came time for dinner, I didn't feel like eating much beyond some stir-fried veg and kimchi in a can which I had also purchased. I had a lot of this, and no one else did, and by about 8, I was feeling a bit... odd. That odd feeling turned into the feeling that I was going explode, quite literally. So much gas was building up in me. Around 10:30, I was extremely uncomfortable and went to bed, or at least tried to go to bed. I couldn't. Extreme discomfort turned into pain, sharp, shooting pain all-around my stomach and lower abs. I got up, did what I could, came back to bed and repeated for about four hours, until finally at 3, I threw up everything from the day before. Great, I thought, that will be the end of it. But it wasn't. The pain was getting worse and I decided around 5:30, in a stupor, that I needed to go to the hospital.

At this point, I was not in great shape. On all fours in the stairway landing, knowing that this too would pass but at that very moment thinking that I wasn't going to make it. We called the ambulance, but they won't come unless you are in an emergency, not in need of urgent care. So I called and waited for a taxi which took about ten minutes to come, all the time second-guessing the decision to go, although it was clear at this point that the pain was not abetting and there was nothing left in my stomach to get out.

The taxi took me quickly to the hospital, and although the pain was killing me, I was confident that I was going to be able to make it without ruining the driver's car. I went to check in at the A&E, which took some time as I had to go to the bathroom twice in the middle. As the hospital works, I was very quickly into a room and very quickly triage'd and they set me up on a paracetamol drip as well as some stuff for the vomiting and something else. 'Ate something dodgy?' the woman at the counter had said to me. Yes. It appears that way.

So I laid on the trolley, trying hard not to move because every time I shifted it caused a new series of pain. The nurses came in a couple of times, and finally the doctor to inspect me. She tried to feel up my stomach and abs, but I was so tender, I would tense up immediately. They ordered some x-rays and I waited for those.

Being alone in an A&E, mobile phone service on for like 5 minutes an hour, the bright lights, the trolley, the old man outside of the room, disoriented from a fall: I felt utterly alone in a way that food poisoning has found me two times. The last time was in Bangladesh, in a hotel room, trying to make it through the night. No one is there: it is you only, and you know, in your mind, that you will make it, but you are in a hole, a dark, painful hole that can't be mitigated by anything. You just have to live through it, minute by minute, calling out and reaching out for something that doesn't exist. 'Mom,' I could hear myself wanting to say, 'Mom, come and help me.'

Luckily, after the order for the x-rays, I was exhausted, so by the time I was taken away, I was coming in and out and of sleep and I only roughly remember being taken back to Room 5 in the A&E. Everyone was so kind: the technician, the nurses, the doctors. They have a healthcare worker sensibility, the same as Yoko has, strong and resolute when you are weak, but kind and supportive. Like coaches: you will be okay, I have empathy for you, but I'm only going to show you what you need to get through this. You will make it and I'm here with you.

I'm here with you, yes, the morning was laced with the kindness of strangers doing their jobs, but keeping my head above the waterline.

I slept and woke up in a start, the light in the room exactly as when I had gone to sleep and the same sounds outside. I went to move and there was no pain. No pain? None. It was almost 11 at that point. I had slept and hour and half and like what happened in Bangladesh, I had woken with a new body. I called the nurse and asked her what was happening and she said that the surgeon had been called. Shit, I thought, this is more serious. Appendix? Cancer? Do I have a lump of kimchi and cabbage lodged in me that needs to be cut out? How embarrassing would that be.

The surgeons came and pushed on my stomach and the pain was gone thankfully: the surgeon assured me they wouldn't cut me open and that I could go home. I called Yoko, they took out the IV, and I left at 12:30, weak, but feeling like I was going to make it.

It was sunny when I came out and I felt that feeling you have when you get close to the edge of yourself. Close, even if only in theory, to your own death, what it could be like. I bought a scone and some sports drink and waited for Yoko.

I'm sure there's a moral to this story, but I'm not sure what it is. 'Don't buy lettuce from them,' the surgeon said. It feels silly in the end. I felt silly in Bangladesh. All that was something, right? It wasn't just a dream, was it? Surely it wasn't. Surely I wasn't over-reacting: it takes a lot to get me to the hospital, alone for that matter. No, it was serious, just not life-threateningly serious.

Everyone who checked my pulse commented on it: do you play competitive sports? Do you work out a lot? Are you quite fit? I compete against myself, I said to one nurse.

As a foreigner, I am also a student of the NHS, how it works. It works very well, to be clear. Things take time, but they are very, very good at serving the needs of the hospital, not the individual patient. That isn't to say the individual patient suffers: you don't any more than you would anywhere else. But the hospital has a priority system and you fit in that system at different places at different times. And it will take an hour to be seen by a doctor, but not if you're in trouble. So you don't have to worry. You just have to be patient.

I think this week should go on without too many changes, as per usual. I have supervision tomorrow and then a conference the rest of the week at the OU. I was at the edge: I am back now. Best to be reminded that the body, even a good healthy one, could go out at you at time. Interesting what you regret when you are lying there alone.

09 September 2011

Standing all the time

I realised that I hardly sit down anymore. Basically just to eat. Really? Yeah, really. I was standing reading in the library. MUCH more effective. Read more, read better. It was a good experience. Really helps me focus In fact, I think I'm going back to the library now to stand and read.

08 September 2011

Sorority III

First Day of School

What we take off only to put on again

In March, right around the time of the earthquake in Tohoku, I took my gloves off because the weather had gotten nicer. Today, 8 September, I put them back on: it's gotten cold again. I've been mentioning on and off how Autumn had come to the UK, but that was the nice bit of Autumn. The real UK Autumn, which I was reminded of on Tuesday and again today, is a dreary, blustery one, with rain and wind coming and going all the time. There are, of course, moments of glorious breakthrough, but only here and there. It will be raining until further notice.

I  have a distinct feeling of rounding another corner, something that always happens around this time of the year. The corner I am rounding this time leads to the homestretch, the final year of my PhD and (potentially) my time in the UK. The feeling isn't quite what I hoped or imagined. Things remain very much up in the air, with little resolution in the forseeable future. You get closer to the edge of the cliff, but you cannot see the way down into the valley until you are on the edge. You know there is a way down and you will make it to the bottom, but from this point of view, all you see is the wide open sky and a drop off.

How is that for extended metaphor?

So I have been looking for a parachute that I can hold onto as I run towards the edge. A viable Plan B, I have been calling it. A teaching position at a university in Japan seems to have made itself available, at least in theory, from September of next year, a Plan B that may very well become a Plan A, if the conditions are right. Essentially, we find ourselves in a place where we have to decide what we want in life, in terms of permanent residency. I think I want Japan, but I can't be sure of that at this point. My wife may want Japan, but not now, not next year. So we have to sort that. The problem with my potential work, my Plan B in Japan, is that it will likely require me to decide early before my other opportunities are clear.

Now, I will be looking for something that might be able to tide us over in the UK as a Plan B, some part-time work that won't require that I get a new visa necessarily and will allow me to stay on until December 2012 or January 2013, looking at other options, and potential full-time, tenured work in this country immediately (quite unlikely) or Japan from April 2013 (much, much more likely).

Plan A, to be clear, is still going to work at Lancaster, I think, depending on how long we can get funding for. If we get 18 months of full-time funding for me, I will be very happy to stay: it will give me some time to actually work on the project rather than have to immediately begin looking for work after starting there. 18 months would also give me an ending point at the beginning of the Japanese school year, meaning that I would be able to look for good jobs there from April 2014, if that were the case. So Lancaster is focus number one for the next three months (number one after the thesis, of course). I have to work on the bid, go to NYC, and make it the best it can be before the end of the year. And then it will be 2012.

Of course, the world spins on: Naomi went to school yesterday and although it looked like it would be a repeat of last year, with crying and shouting and begging not to go, she did better, only cried a bit. This morning, standing in her school uniform, she was (even as late as 8:30 when I left) saying she would go to school with no problem. If this is the case, our lives over the next month will be much easier. No fighting all morning, and Yoko will have a bit of reprieve for several hours during the day. Mia is also crying less, now happy to sit in her seat and watch people. Mei's skin is cleared up, so she is happy too. Some stability on the homefront.

I am also finishing my muscle-building, diet-ending workout experience. I have done well, I think: come up in good weight and managed to stay healthy in my eating, if still potentially eating too much. I'm a little exhausted. I've very exhausted, actually, reminding me that I need I to do everything in moderation. But I am done with my plan on Saturday and ready to start to coast a bit. I have a good, sustainable plan for maintaining the muscle I've built, and I've started to reintroduce normal food back into my life. Eating better, and more healthily. I feel good, despite being tired. I feel like I can continue on.

Yes. That's the whole point, right? Continue on, persevere, don't fall back. The press of motion is always forward, to the unknown future. Unknown, but healthy, in every way that I can control. That is something: a viable Plan A if I've ever heard of one.

06 September 2011

Book of Longing

P brought me Leonard Cohen's Book of Longing last week. Perfect.
The sweetest little song
You go your way
I'll go your way too

05 September 2011

Eating seeds

The birds of the air

Sometimes, what you actually want to say is much more condensed than when it first came out.

I had spent another weekend (again) dreaming of a simpler life in the Japanese mountains, only to wake to an e-mail in the middle of the night that said, No, I couldn't apply for said position because I didn't yet have my doctorate in hand. This metaphor in hand is not one used in the UK much, I'm not sure what it means exactly. But I think the long and short of it is that I am going to have to take a short contract after my PhD: it won't be avoided and settling into a real job won't happen for a little while. In 2011-2012, getting a PhD is not paying your dues: you have more to pay before you can start as an academic.

But I, in my dreamworld, already had myself on the top of the mountain, with an office, a date to leave the UK, a narrative I was ready to start living about why we needed to go back. I was ready for it. And now I'm back to square one, the cycle begins again.

Sorority II

02 September 2011

Naomi, growing up

Naomi is going to school next week. She will be at school from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. A whole day, really. Yoko will be at home with the two girls instead of the three. Naomi and I will be gone just about the same amount of time each day. How weird is that.

I usually get up before everyone in the house, at five or five-thirty. I work out on days that I work out, or look at the Internet. I make breakfast and eat and usually empty the dishwasher and the laundry machine when it's done. The sounds of the kids upstairs grows: someone cries, another cries, then laughing and then they start to trickle downstairs. Mei first usually, sometimes Naomi.

Today, it was Naomi: she was standing in the door frame of the kitchen in a Cinderella dress and wanting me to look at her. 'You're beautiful,' I said. There's a party today for Leila, she said: Leila is turning two. 'Oh,' I said, 'Come here... do you know what happens on tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow's tomorrow?' I go to school, she said. 'Are you excited?' I asked. She just smiled nervously. 'Will you and Mommy wait for me?'

Yes, of course, we will wait, I wanted to say, but I didn't, that's not what you're supposed to say: 'No, Daddy will go to school and Mommy will come pick you up when you're done.' And she seemed like this was not the best option, but she agreed to it: I hugged her and she went to play.

Four years old already. I became one of those people who talks about how quickly kids grow up? I guess so.

One of the things about marriage and family is how it builds momentum. You can make jokes about it: we could never get a divorce because we have so much shared stuff now--it would be too much trouble. But the truth is that you, the plural you of the family, become a unit of something, all intertwined and interdependent and slowly making new, more meaningful connections with each other that make things even deeper. And it becomes easier because you get older, wiser, and more mature. You get less worried about things.

And love... What is love? I'm not sure, but these last couple of days I have felt so much of it for Yoko, for some reason. In some new way, some way that I have never felt before. I loved you before, I loved you yesterday, I loved you when we got married, but today, now, this moment, I love you. Does that make sense? How can you say that in a way that's meaningful?

So even though the future feels like a black hole sucking me into a new dimension, there is some (a great deal actually) of stability built into the five of us together. I stated the problem of the future clearly to Yoko last night as we talked about it: In one year, we will have to do something and it will be something new. There is no default setting. A lot of my friends that are finishing now or with me have jobs to return to: most of them don't really want to go back, but they can go back. There is something to be done. Yoko was talking about her friend whose husband has, like me, talked about going to Dubai or Abu Dhabi to teach, but he has a job and is English and will probably not go because the momentum of his life is here, working here. The momentum of our life it towards a cliff, one that appears sheerer than I imagined it.

But. I will wake up tomorrow. Do the same thing. Weigh my body, worry about my ability to control myself, worry about the future, and stretch. But when the kids wake up, things will make sense. And they will continue to make sense through bad supervision meetings, sudden feelings of panic: I will look at my wife whom I love now, and will love in a new way next year, and things will be okay, because the five of us will be together. And that's certainly a hell of a lot more than anything I ever imagined when I agreed, in Japanese vows I understood, but didn't understand, to marry my wife. This happened. And who could have imagined this.

01 September 2011

Wake me when September ends

I woke this morning at 4:26AM with the distinct feeling that it was September. I have been waiting for you, September. I'm glad, very, very glad to see you. 
The summer was hard. It was a hard summer. I can say that now that it's over. The bits of it that were hard are not over--they continue on. But the change in weather and new number, closer to the end, makes me optimistic that things are moving forward.

The PhD feels like be in suspended animation some times. There it is, my thesis open in another window, but it's not moving at all. I'm not moving at all. I feel like I've done nothing today, but for me, as I think about it, doing nothing has included:

  • Waking, stretching, doing 3 sets of 20 push ups.
  • Working on a bit of the thesis, deleting and rewriting a key paragraph and cleaning up some of the other writing I've done
  • Doing some things around the house: emptying the dishwasher, hanging the laundry, cleaning the carpet.
  • Taking Yoko to her eye appointment and watching the kids while she was being seen.
  • Lifting in the outdoor gym for 15-12-10 reps in 4 sets in 4 positions.
  • Drafting a bid for a small grant for my airfare to the States in October.

That's certainly not nothing, is it? 

Tonight we will eat kebabs. You can't have kebabs in Japan, but you can so many other things. I am thinking, as I do, about returning to Japan. The possibilities always lead back there: I have like a three month cycle where I look through all my options and end up thinking, well, I need to go back to Japan. No, more importantly, we need to go back to Japan. And I think I may have a way to have my cake and eat it too--that is, do the research I want to and also return to teaching full time next autumn. We'll see. Lots of things would have to fall into place.  

I was thinking about returning to the States for a while, usually, when this happens, it lasts for about a week of that. I was thinking about how nice it would be, but it was a 'how nice it would be' in a very limited way. I can't place my family there, in a house, in a neighbourhood, in a car. I can't see it. I see myself making it work. Perhaps that's just because I haven't done it. If we do it, maybe I could see it.

I see us in Japan, though. Very easily. I was telling someone yesterday what it would be like, how I already know the speech I would have to make at the dinner that they would have to welcome the new teachers. I know what getting a driver's license would be like, what I would have to do to register with the city. How frustrating hooking up the Internet would be. I know all of that. I know the kids would be called hafu all the time, that it would infuriate me. I know that. 

I also know that I would be much healthier in Japan than I am here or I would be in the States. Working out, gym membership (or at the school I taught at) would be cheap. Tofu would be cheap and readily available. Going out to eat would be a menu of 80% healthy things. I could have hamburgers now and then. Perhaps I could get over this madness I am in with my body, trying to figure it out.  

I'm rambling.

I was paid today: we have 12 payments left on the grant. Then I will have to do something else. That's the problem, that's the pressure. What's the next step: what should the next step be. P asked me last night, does the thought of going back to Japan make you happy? 'Happy?' I said, 'No, happy is the wrong word.' The right word is peace. It's a peaceful thought. It's a weight off of my shoulders. It's improving my ability to communicate with my wife. It's a mini-cub and eating out once a week. It's stability. Yes, of course, happiness, but something so much more than happiness. Contentment? Would I be content there? Or will something else open up? Another door too attractive to not open... There are so many doors like that. 

Please, someone. Decide for me.