31 December 2011

2012 Mantra

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 December 2011

2011, the year of contentment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 December 2011


Happy Christmas everyone: a day late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 December 2011

Predictions for 2012

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

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

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

Death of Pope. New Pope: younger, Latino.

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

Manning plea-bargains for espionage charges against Assange

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

I think I've got some winners here!

2011 Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Round deux, Maths-literate Younger sister?

22 December 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 December 2011

2011, the year of health

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

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

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

17 December 2011


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

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

16 December 2011

God is not great

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 December 2011

Remember yesterday...

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 December 2011

I win

Last night I got my medicine bag.

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

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

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

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

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

I'm such an evangelist at heart.

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

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

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

08 December 2011

Dreaming of a beginning

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

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

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

I shouldn't be so surprised.

07 December 2011

An Angel

Dreaming of an end

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

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

06 December 2011

An unsuccessful morning

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

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

Ready? Ready.

05 December 2011

The analytic apparatus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 December 2011

Daylight Fading

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

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

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

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

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