30 December 2012

First impressions

Blogging will be short and intermittent to start with here. Things are going okay so far: no surprises about Malaysia compared to other places in Southeast Asia that I've been. Suddenly you're aware that you haven't seen another white person since the airport. There's a large shopping centre nearby so we can get what we need. I took Mei and saw a bit of it through her eyes: Daddy, someone's dumped garbage in that river. Yoko's not feeling well, but otherwise we are okay. More later, when I get the Internet more regularly.

24 December 2012

Emotional whiplash

It's been a week since I finished my PhD, but it's felt like much longer. I got home after the viva and the kids pulled crackers that littered the lounge with streamers and confetti. Yoko got me wine and cigarellos to celebrate. I told the story of the viva on the phone and on Skype a couple of times, adjusting it for whoever was listening and how much patience I felt they had for the details. I can talk about it moment by moment, the things that I forgot about in the first telling, but now remember in light of the outcome. The weather had been so good that day and I faced the examiner in front of a window overlooking the football pitch and the river that skirts the edge of campus. I caught glimpses over his shoulder at times, my unconscious remembering every frustrated walk out to the river and back when I was stuck and angry.

After the girls had gone to bed, I worked fixing all the typos in the thesis that we had found and looked for a binder to deal with it within the week. I realised that if I were able to get everything done — get the whole thing bound and submitted--that I could be completely finished with all my responsibilities at the OU by the time I left the country.

On Tuesday morning, I got the go ahead from the Research School to print it. I ordered the copies online and paid the money to have them shipped overnight when they were finished, to arrive sometime on Thursday, well in time for submission on Friday. I also spent some time trying to get ahold of the woman in charge of my computer that I wanted to buy from the OU, but she didn't respond to any of my e-mails or calls. I took a heap of rubbish to the dump and threw it all away.

On Wednesday, I got up, and took the girls to school, went shopping with Yoko, then brought Naomi and Mei to the dentist, and held both of their hands while the dentist filled tiny cavities in their tiny mouths. I took them home, cleaned and sold my car, and met a friend for coffee and he took me home. A never ending list of things to do which was interrupted when I was rushing past the refectory and saw a friend and colleague I hadn't seen in a long time. I stopped and went in, something I probably wouldn't have done any other day, but now there is no time and you need to say hello and goodbye while you can.

On Friday, I got up early again (Naomi was sick), picked up my 13 kilo box of theses plus two more copies and headed to take the bus to the OU. I got there on time, turned in my theses at the Research School and then got an e-mail saying that there was no way my computer was going to be done on time. I rode the bus back to the shopping centre and looked at computers and went to London.

I taught a very small class and left a bit early, thinking I would check my bank account to see how much I had been paid from Middlesex. £44.79. No, that couldn't be right, I thought, trying to work out where a mistake had been made. It was 4:45; everything would be closed. I rushed over to HR; no one was there. I found a guy in payroll who you could tell was trying to be empathetic, but what could he do: everything was closed now. It was, after all, Christmas. There were Christmas cookies on the filing cabinet as I left and I wondered what would happen if I took one without asking: I didn't get paid, goddammit! This has consequences! 

On the underground ride home, I figured out what the problem was: my line manager had made a simple, but costly mistake. I wrote an incredulous e-mail to him in my head as I rode the Northern line down into Euston, missing entirely the fact that it was my last time riding into London on the underground. I rode the Northern line so much this year: I love how you memorise the stations without thinking. Hampstead, Golder's Green, Brent Cross, Hendon Central. What comes next, I don't know.

I met a friend at Angel, we had a pint at a pub, and he went off to meet friends. Walking back to Euston, I found a Starbucks and flirted in the way married men do with younger women serving them coffee:
Did you want the soya hot?
Yes, please, well, either way, whatever's easier.
It's better hot.
Yes, yes, thank you.
Here you are.
Happy Christmas.
You too.
I sat in a big chair upstairs, feeling suddenly heavy and bogged down. An Englishman and an Indian guy were talking about nuclear bombs, laughing about how the first real nuclear test was on Hiroshima. It annoyed me to no end, much more than it usually would: my wife's grandfather was killed by that bomb, you assholes.
Disembodied, looking down at myself, I scowled: Christ...on Monday, I had been a god. A god. Now I was flaccid and exhausted--a man in a wet overcoat waiting for a couple minutes sleep on a train rushing through the night towards the suburbs. 
On Saturday, I woke up and rode the bus back to the OU to pick up my laptop. It was raining heavily: I sat at a colleague's desk as the laptop filled itself up with security updates and Japanese fonts. I intended to ride the bus again, but missed it and opted to walk home. I packed up all the things that I had left on my desk. A coaster, a mug, and headed out to walk across campus one last time. When I got to the footbridge, the one that I had crossed every day, the one leading into the university, I turned around and looked back. As I remember it, I was smoking one of the cigarellos that Yoko had given me. I wanted to cry--I've wanted to cry all week, but there was no physical impetus to cry. I just stood and looked for a minute. All of this, all four years. Then I turned around and walked home.

20 December 2012

The end.

Wow. It's amazing what 47 hours and £194.37 will get you.

19 December 2012

More on illness

Today, I was standing in line with a friend of mine, buying coffee before we chatted for the last time after more than four years of chatting about our respective PhDs. There was gluten-free cake for sale and I immediately thought of Mei, who has been avoiding gluten because of her skin. Perfect, I thought, I'll get this for Mei: tomorrow she has a school party and Yoko was looking and looking in the store for something to get her. She got her gluten-free muffins: close enough at the time. But this: this was Victorian sponge cake. Perfect, I thought, and joked with the woman at the till about how I would be a hero bringing this home, both with my daughter and wife, I smugly announced. 

Mei avoiding sweets has been much harder on me I think than it has been on her. She doesn't seem to care when she's told she can't have something. She accepts it as being the way the world is. I, however, think constantly of how deprived she must feel, how unfair it is that she is suffering this disease alone in the family. How terrible she must feel, I think, hoisting my own fear of illness on her. I want to give her something — anything — to make it better. 

When I came inside the house, I announced to Yoko what I had brought: gluten-free Victorian sponge cake. Perfect, right? Yoko looked apprehensive: is it also milk free? Milk, dammit, I thought. In all my excitement about the cake, I had forgotten the most important thing she was avoiding, the thing that really sets her on edge: milk. How stupid to have forgotten that: it's like buying someone an accessory for an iPad and forgetting they don't have an iPad. I got angry and argued with Yoko about it--a stupid thing as Yoko has been up all night, week-after-week, trying so hard to make this better, carefully watching everything Mei eats, while making sure Mei feels nothing but love and acceptance and normalcy through it all. I said, But I want to give her cake.

I want to give it to her. しかし、あげたいんだよ。 I want to give it to her. I want her to feel better. I sulked off, both of us angry and frustrated.

Naomi and I ended up eating the cake quietly when Mei had gone to take a shower. When Mei came back down, Yoko said to her, 'Look, your daddy bought you muffins at Sainsbury's without milk or wheat: just for Mei' playing up my role in purchasing the muffins as a proxy for the cake Naomi and I had eaten. Mei smiled and went off to play.
How silly it is to feel pain for someone who doesn't feel the pain themselves.

17 December 2012

As it happened

Yoko and the girls have fallen asleep: Mei is doing much better now. We have been praising her for getting better, for avoiding sweets, and for not scratching herself. She glows when you praise her--so proud, so confident. How can you express your love for your own children. You pick them up and squeeze them and tell them again and again how much you love them. I told this anecdote today about Naomi and the wishing bone:
We both took either end, and I said, 'Naomi what do you wish for.' She said, after thinking, I want to be rich. I laughed: we pulled and I won. She was, you could see, upset by losing, so I said, 'Do you know what I wished for?' She shook her head. 'For you to be rich.' She smiled and ran off. 
The person I told this story then turned to Naomi and asked, 'What do you want to do with your money?' I want to buy mummy and daddy presents, she said.

I told this story to someone who was at a small party for me in the second floor of the Stuart Hall Building. I was sipping champagne while my daughters ran up and down the open plan office hallway, shouting and laughing. Someone commented, there used to be always kids here and dogs. Kids and dogs, I laughed. At the OU? Certainly not.

The second floor Stuart Hall Building is where I began my work as a student at the OU and where, today, I ended it. I waited all morning for the viva panic to set in, the feeling that I was actually going to have to finally stand up, stand behind my thesis and say, Yes, this is what I did, what I believed. I received an email when I arrived at work, hilariously announcing that a book I had ordered by one of my 'spiritual' guides (a Scottish writing instructor), had arrived. The book, 'How to Survive Your Viva', was one I was meant to read, but never got around to. At 11, after having responded to student emails, I thought, well, I'll take a look at it and marched off to the library. I thumbed through it on the long walk back to my desk, thinking about how none of this mattered any more: I couldn't do what Rowena suggests you do a month before the viva. What do you do two hours before? Don't read anything new. Great, I've blown it.

At 1:45, I went to the room adjacent the exam. The department secretary came in to check on me: was I okay? We chatted about how I would go about turning things in after I made the corrections, sometime in the new year. The external examiner walked by looking for the room, but smiled when he saw me and introduced himself. We had met before, talked for about ten minutes at a seminar once, but I was happy to see he was in a good mood: he went off to the room and they called me in.

I had made a report of the typos I'd found in the thesis and added the new articles that had been accepted or under review. Perhaps we have spotted some of the same, one of them said.

The questioning was not hard, but it was clearly set up to get me to talk about my work and find the weaknesses. The first real important hurdle was talking about how I had built my dataset, which the external had questions about, but I think I managed to explain why YouTube is a unique environment and why my method was the best for looking at what I did. The first question, 'How did you become interested in this topic?' was the same one from my mock viva, so I was able to tweak my answer and go with it.

The second big question was also methodological, about my use of ethnography, which I also talked at length about. I talked a lot, as I think about it. Talked fast too, probably. This was when things really turned in my favour: the internal asked why I had used community of practice theory and what I was offering to the theoretical understanding of community. I had that section annotated so I was able to point to the part in the thesis where I had unpacked and rejected one popular notion of online 'community' and explained why I used 'community of practice' instead. It was all there, in bullet points, and I could talk to it like you would talk to a slide, the exam panel following along in the book. I also talked at length about the role of the online researcher, not as 'lurker', but as 'viewer', a legitimate position in the YouTube community of practice. This also seemed to put me in good graces with the internal, who is more interested in these issues than external appeared to be. This was to be expected, though, as they both do very, very different sorts of work.

The third big question was theoretical, with important methodological implications: about how I built my semantic groupings of metaphors. This question bled into another big theoretical question which was that I more or less rejected the user perspective on metaphor and marked as metaphorical things that the users might not have intended to be metaphorical. Answering this question required covering the main positions that people have on 'intentional' metaphor, the strengths and weaknesses of those positions, and where I positioned myself. I answered this question by describing what I felt were my three options in approaching metaphor in the study, each one coming from a different theoretical background, and why I chose the one that I did. The external's comments, however, were sounding a bit like he might want either another table in the chapter or a much bigger reworking, where I reshuffled all my groupings. I basically said that although I could do that, I didn't think it would get me much further in answering my research questions and, even if I did do it again, we would end up with the same questions that we started with, something he seemed to agree with.

The fourth big question was about how I saw my methods interacting with each other and why I had chosen the ones that I had. I talked, again, at length about this, mentioning earlier research (both my own and others) that suggested why I would go the way that I had. This was probably the longest answer because it took setting up all four of the methods in terms of the theoretical background for them and my adaptation of them and my description of how I saw them interacting with one another.

There was another small question about categorisation that was quite minor.

The last question was about a postscript where I had said, basically, that all the people that argued with each other could and did sometimes get along. I talked about going to New York and talking with Joshua Stanton about the Ground Zero Mosque and how our conversation had affected me, led me to think about categorisation in a new way.

This all took about 90 minutes. Then they said, 'Okay' and looked at me, and I said, 'Don't I get to ask some questions?' and the chair said, 'Yes, yes, of course, of course.' So I asked about how it read, what changes they would make to publish it as a monograph, a question that was genuine but also strategic: the implication being that it's publishable as a monograph.

They had me leave the room and my second supervisor was outside with another colleague. How did it go? It went well, I said, I don't know — there's some chance I could have passed without corrections... They looked at me a bit shocked, Really? Yeah, I said, I don't know though: I had another friend who went through the viva, left thinking it was more-or-less wrapped up, and came back to them asking for major corrections. So, I said, who knows. We chatted a bit more and could hear everyone in the room laughing, and then my supervisor came bursting out, looking like I had never seen her before and headed to the room I was supposed to be waiting in. I went back and sat down and the chair said, 'Well, unfortunately... We've found some typos that you haven't corrected... I am surprised to say this, but the panel recommends a straight pass.' I was shocked. Really? I said. Really. I pulled off my glasses: was I going to cry? Thank you, I said: I looked at the internal, known for being very particular, always wanting changes. There was nothing else. It was done. Does anyone have to approve of it before it's bound? No: you can't change anything but the typos. It's done. Well done.
This thesis is extremely well presented, clearly structured and convincingly argued throughout. It makes substantial contributions to the 4 main areas investigated in computer-mediated, video based discourse, i.e. the study of discourse metaphor, categorisation, impoliteness and discourse positioning as well as in general to the theory of conflict communication.
I was speechless. We all had champagne. I had to say something: what do you say? Yoko came with the kids: I passed without corrections. It's done. Yoko started crying. Really? Really.

There were a lot of things I was planning to do this week, but getting my thesis bound and turned in to the OU Library was not one of them. I am, however, going to be doing that now. I will leave the UK completely done. Nothing left to do. I am not a doctor subject to anything. I am a doctor now.

Mei and Mia and Nana ran up and down the hallway of the open plan office, chasing each other, and coming back every so often to call me 'Doctor Daddy'. These are my post-graduate children, I say: Nana's the MA, Mei's the MRes, and Mia's the PhD. We, the five of us, did this--they deserve so much more than I've been able to give them. Now, however, we have time and a little bit of money. We can do things, go places. Have fun. Let's go to the jungle, I say to them: let's go look at monkeys in Malaysian trees. As someone committed to seeing the world for its complexity, I believe everything always works out--it working out is the whole point. It's the nature of things. Still, sometimes, things work out in unexpectedly nice ways.

16 December 2012

14 December 2012

The suspension of time

Get to the point. I tell my students this when I am teaching them to write. First things first, I say. What should come first.

Two stories are interweaving on this Friday the fourteenieth of December. The one that is first, and the one should be and has been and will be the first, is the continued suffering of Mei with this rash, an out-working of a skin infection. She is trying so hard to be well--she has such a persevering spirit. Yoko has been attending to her so carefully and doing everything to keep the itching and pain away. Yoko, mother first and foremost when the children are suffering and mother only, is dutifully up all night, soothing Mei with rags and cool mineral water. The house is permeated with the smells of the balms and ointments. You think, as you do, about Jesus' feet being covered in perfume and washed by the tears of the prostitute. Yes, what a waste: Mei is suffering. I stand in the doorframe watching Yoko care, thinking alternating selfish and magnanimous thoughts. The thoughts of a thirty year-old who is one part 57 year old and one part 15 year old. It's not about me/it's always about me.

The second story is the reason, to some extent, we have all been suffering, the reason we are here in England in the first place. My PhD is ending now. Soon. Very soon. I had a mock viva on Wednesday, which I feared greatly, but got through without much trouble. We spotted a large error, one that I had to go back to the literature to understand what I had done wrong. The error was ultimately not that large and, as you do, I made up a narrative to make sense of it. The narrative is true, in the strictest sense, but as I will tell this story on Monday, I will gut it of the parts that I experienced the most vividly, the deep, deep ignorance that still is present in my work. The PhD doesn't leave you feeling any more competent, just more cautious of everything, of every story a person tells you, every claim to truth, and every experience that you think to be examplar. Now, you immediately think, how can I know if this is right or not.

How can I know if this is right or not. The poet David Baker asks, in a poem comparing his wife's treatment for a chronic illness with her religious upbringing, 'Whom to believe? This is our central task.' The connections to my own life can't be more obvious. Whom to believe: you ask this constantly when holding a sick child. What am I doing, I suddenly think again, standing in another empty room, everything shipped, thrown away, or going with us on the plane. Why. Why, why, why. These 'why' questions are so easily answered, I think: we just don't like the answers. There is a complex set of factors that has led me here and that will define who I am going forward. Perhaps I will be able to identify them. Perhaps not. I am happy to find myself, after four years of epistemological boot camp (which iPad, unironically, wants to be 'book camp') less and less interested in a simple, reduced answer: a theory of everything. We have moved past that. There is no one reason, there is never one reason.

So on Monday, I will put on my sport coat which has a small hole in it that only I can see. I will open up my thesis in front of three experts with my supervisor sitting behind me, both metaphorically and physically. And I will do my best to recount the work that I have done, with the appropriate amount of doubt. The amount of doubt that I actually feel. Not the crippling doubt of packing the house. Not the unfettered confidence of standing in front of undergraduates. The appropriate amount. And on Monday evening, I will be a doctor, subject, I'm sure, to some amendments.

10 December 2012

02 December 2012

Yes, I'm here

Everything you have can go in a box. You put that box on a ship and in 8 to 9 weeks it appears at another address, one in Malaysia. An address that you memorise and write over and over again. You worry about whether the boxes will make it until you think: what have I put in these boxes that is really important to me?

When you move, you think think about currency exchange rates and get angry over the 3% to 5% you will lose in exchanging your money. You think, for some stupid reason, that money is equivalent  that one kind of money equals a real value in another kind of money. It doesn't. It's only worth what you can buy it for or sell it for. Everything you own is like that, actually. It's not worth what anyone says or tells you or writes down or blogs about. It's worth whatever you get for it.

When you move, you find yourself under an intense amount of stress. Some of it is manageable and explicit: what goes in what box. How many boxes do you need. Some it is implicit and malignant--the kind that causes you to suddenly get angry and start shouting at your wife or your kids over something that is not the problem. This stress you hate the worst: it makes you ashamed and want to eat and hide and run away. 

I want to keep up with the second person narrative, but I'm not fooling myself with it. It's never about you: it's about me. I'm the one shouting at my wife and kids. I'm the one trying to keep it all together. There comes a point when you are moving when you would give just about anything to not have to do it, but you have already signed the contract. 

Not you, I mean. Me. I signed the contract. I agreed to do this. I looked my wife in the eyes and said this was the best thing and she looked back and said that this was the best thing. And we can't go back now: there's nothing else to do but keep going forward. It's like having a baby. It's like jumping out of an airplane. You can't stop. You keep going forward.

The most important thing I own is my guitar, but I sort of want it to disappear en route.  It's like an albatross around my neck: the weight of a gift, of leading worship through college, of being in love and losing it. I don't know any songs but praise songs. I play them so well, too. It's a gift I want to lose: please ship, sink. I want it all to disappear, to have to start again from scratch. Drown all my things.

There are benefits to moving though. One is going away parties which are almost always fun. People like you so much when you're going. Another benefit: needing to drink all the whisky we have in the house. We have whisky in the house? Apparently we do. And apparently it's delicious. 

Mei is fighting the flare-up of eczema (seen in the image below) like a martyr dying for this family. Noble and kind and joyful through it all. Yoko is up all night with Mei as she cries through the discomfort of having open sores all over her body. And then Yoko falls down the stairs and bruises her tail bone: the boxes still needing to be filled through all of this. I'm the useless husband/father, trying to make myself useful--cutting tape, filling out forms, investigating shipping rates, picking up heavy things--but fooling no one. Mia stands around watching the whole thing and screeching as if to say, But it's supposed to be all about me, guys. ME. And Naomi is doing her best to support everyone: Mum and dad, I love you, she says and I want to break down and hug her and not let go: I don't deserve any of this. Any of it.
I'll be a doctor in two weeks time, I tell them--the kids.
That's what we came here for. Mei, you weren't even born yet.
Doctor Daddy.
Do people call you mister--Naomi thinks as she tries to form the question--do they call you Mr Stephen?
I lie: sure, my students do.
And she laughs, Mr Stephen. Doctor Daddy.
And then it is completely silent. Everyone is sleeping and I am swilling whisky surveying what's left to go in the boxes. Christ. What have we gotten ourselves into. Where does this land. I like the metaphor of the spinning top: the top wobbles and looks to fall. I want to hold my whole family in my arms, tighter and tighter as I did Mei this morning when she woke up. I'm sorry for this. All of it. I have invented nothing but complexity for all us: all three of my children are born of complexity.

One family, three different places each of us belongs, according to five-year old logic which allocates belonging to where you were born. But there's only one place in our future--I've memorised the address and written it 12 times now. Selangor. Semenyih. We don't know it yet, but we will soon enough. You just hold on, okay?

27 November 2012


When eczema flairs
red by your eyes
you look as though you
have been beaten.

17 November 2012


Yesterday, I finally saw the Rothko Room at Tate Modern in London. I won't bother you with the back story, but suffice to say, I've been waiting four years to see these paintings.

I expected to not be disappointed by them but I probably should have brought my expectations down. After all, I had big, big expectations. See god, these sorts of things. I wandered around looking for them, and finally came to the room they are tucked away in now.

I was not disappointed. More than not disappointed. I was shocked by how incredible they were. Much bigger and hazier than I expected them to be. I was surprised as you stare at them how you get the sense that you are trying to look past them. It's like looking into the void and being obstructed. You think as you would expect about death and eternity and Rothko killing himself. I left elated, in a depressed sort of way: a feeling similar to the one I had upon finishing War and Peace last year. A kind of intense satisfaction. An epiphany in the most appropriate sense. I walked back to London Bridge thinking about all the things London has given me, how just four years ago Yoko and I and Naomi had been on the other side of the Thames, and I had marvelled about how being there was a kind of a miracle. Last night, in the fog, the iconic fog, the bridges lit up... The things that have come my way have been inexplicably good--my life has been marked by serendipity in the most profound ways. Always another story, another path to, as a mentor once said to me, unfurl like a flag.

12 November 2012


I read this quote on The Dish yesterday:
"Poetry should be written the way adultery is committed: on the run, on the sly, during the time not accounted for. And then you come home, as if nothing ever happened," - Vera Pavlova.
Last night, before bed, I started writing: I will write a poem tonight, I said. And then four came, one for Yoko, one for Mei, one for Mia, and one for Naomi. I wrote and did not edit them until I was finished, which is what good writing requires in the first instance, the freedom to say what comes into your mind, without any filters on it. The raw data file of a digital image that you touch up later.

I have felt like a top wobbling in the waning moments before falling over: I have been eating and eating and eating for seven weeks. I can mark the day when it started. They talk about the Freshman 15; this is the thesis submitted 12 and a half. I'm fat and bloated and running around madly getting everything together. Selling, translating, sending, marking, teaching, riding the train. Four active academic e-mail addresses, 170 students writing and asking for help. Eat more, eat more, eat more. More coffee, 12 cups today, 15. I just want to get to the next day and the next and the next until there is no more paperwork to do--until I am safely in front of the wave and sitting in an air-conditioned office outside of Kuala Lumpur, March or April 2013, a nameplate and name card reading, 'Dr Stephen Pihlaja, Assistant Professor of Language and Literature'. That's less than four months to survive, to push the camel through the eye of the needle and come out on the other side stronger and more confident than ever before. I did this — all of it.

What I have wanted to write is all the things I never felt I could say. All the insecurity of what others think when they read what you say. The whole damn world is run by fear of embarrassment: don't write that they might judge you. But that thing you don't write is what makes your experience something worth talking about. There is nothing to be ashamed of: why are you hiding from me, god says, who told you you were naked.

My best writing has always been when I give in to my own proclivity and stop trying to normalise it. My best stories in college were these truncated ones from a simple, Evangelical voice, with the implicit meta-narrative encouraging the reader to judge the narrator harshly. So I let myself off the hook yesterday: write about Mei's face swollen by eczema, write about the longing that remains in marriage, write about complex feelings you have when your children disobey you. Let the top wobble and fall if it needs to.

My poems last night fixated on the word 'say' and what is and is not said. The inability to say anything new. The inability to say the truth. The inability to love with words, to say, 'I love you' in a way that conveys whatever love is. I felt the urge to avoid the word love and then went on using it. No one can tell me not to.

Writing is like riding a bike. Everything is like riding a bike. It comes back suddenly. Yes, I remember why I love it; yes, I remember why it is never successful.

11 November 2012


If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 
I have not forgotten you: it's just been a series of unfortunate events leading to me being absent. Copying passports. Ordering shipping boxes. Marking, giving feedback, marking. So much to do, so little time.

I signed my contract, and that was that. It was less troubling or difficult than I thought.

01 November 2012


In a Pihlaja family first (including yours truly), we went trick-or-treating. The children pretended they were some sort of hospital victim/ ghost. I pretended to be a guy not in dire need of a drink.

20 October 2012

The pulling both ways

When two contradictory forces pull on you, you think of Bakhtin and of heteroglossia. Stability and disorder.

I feel the pull both ways as I get set to move my little family across the planet. So many things to do, to think about. No time to wonder about the decision you made. You made the decision, it's the right one, the best one. Now you go. The same thing happened when we came here, but on a smaller scale. There were fewer of us. 3.1 of us, to be exact. Now there are five. Five sets of things, five little sets of feelings to consider.

It's easier this time than the last, I have to say. Last time, Yoko and I were newlyweds with a baby. Now we have been married for over six years. We speak to each other better than we did. We know what we want. It's easier to make decisions and we have fewer things that we are trying to hold onto. Before, we were torn about so many things that we had. Now, we are not. There are fewer questions: we'll take this but not that. Done. We are only arguing about one thing at this point, not 40 things.

The other people who have gone to this campus have either been single or had a much better moving package than the one I have. This post is made for a young academic who is potentially going places, but not one with three kids. I am squeezing my foot into this part of it. I'm willing it, saying it will work for us. And it will, but it won't be easy.

Funny, I have a tag 'moving' in my blog that I have used several times. We keep moving.

I am also guaranteeing myself another international move after this one. We won't settle there, will we? I doubt it. So in three or six or nine years, we will move on and be back in this place: selling our things and worried about the future again. That move will be harder emotionally for the kids, but probably easier in terms of getting our stuff out of the country. Who knows.

For now, we just trust the system: go forward and expect that it will work out. Because it will: it has to. In a year, I will wonder what the worry was about. It was about nothing, about inconvenience. The pull of adventure, of a new country and new life has not lead me astray yet — it certainly won't now. Be confident, even if you aren't confident.

17 October 2012

Selling everything

In the midst of selling 80% of our worldly possessions to move to the otherside of the world, I came across this photo, while searching 'piano' in my Flickr stream. Things change in 7 years. Yoko, a woman of faith, is flummoxed by nothing. I'm still not sure. 

13 October 2012

12 October 2012

Assistant Professor of Language and Literature

I have been sitting on this news for a while, but things are now moving towards the point of no return, so I should come clean and start to get the wheels turning here. I got a job. A full-time, permanent job. From next January, I'm going to be taking a post with the University of Nottingham as an assistant professor of language and literature. I will be allocated to the International campus in Kuala Lumpur for three years, helping to launch the first presentation of their (our) BA honours in Language and Literature from Autumn 2013.

The job search was a hard slog, but this possibility is just about the best that I could have imagined. I will consolidate my research and teaching interests. I will be teaching things I've always wanted to be teaching. I will be working in a new programme where I will have the ability to really leave my mark in a way that I wouldn't be able to otherwise.

This future is one of so many interesting possibilitities for me and the family, opening up so many doors. The girls will have another International experience, potentially picking up a third language. We'll be able to go to the beach on the weekend, eat cheap, delicious good food, and see Southeast Asia. The call to prayer in the morning... A never ending series of new things.

We're moving right around the new year, probably just after Christmas... We're excited: so many things to think about, but... we're excited.

Living on the road

I have been living the commuting life now for the last three weeks, going to London three times a week to teach. On some level, I have managed to accomplish a dream I have always had: to be a university lecturer in England. If you told 20 year-old or 25 year-old me what I do on a daily basis, they would think that I had arrived, gotten exactly what I wanted.  In a tie and sport coat, teaching 'On the Road' from a linguistics perspective. Perfect. Exactly what I wanted.

I feel excited and happy about what I'm doing too, to some extent, but it always seems to be the case with dreams, that once you achieve them, the banal elements of whatever your doing start to take over and you find yourself less impressed with whatever it is you've achieved and more aware of the difficulties of it. Not to complain, of course. I have money, good students, and an increasingly bright future.

The banalities, though. Of waiting for a train, of buying train tickets, of walking an hour every day. I have so far done a good job of using this time to breathe, as it were, take a moment to remember who I am and why I'm here and remember that before long, this will all be over. That's Oxford Circus, Stephen, you work here. Remember that, remember how blue the sky is and how everyone is bundled in the coming cold. Take a moment to just look. The banalities haven't made things difficult at all, actually, but I wonder how long that would last. I know it will be over soon, very soon, so there seems to be no sense of being stuck, of the future not coming quickly enough.

It's a series of new feelings actually. Having completed my PhD thesis, I am less aware of the date. Before, I could tell you the date without blinking. Today is the twelfth, but I only know that because I recently looked at my watch. Now, I count time in teaching weeks. This is teaching week three at Westminster and teaching week one at Middlesex. That's all I know. I said to someone the other day, 'When I was writing my thesis...' just like that, using the past tense. When I was. I am not writing my thesis anymore. I am writing three journal articles, but not my thesis. That part of my life is done. I will be correcting my thesis in a couple of months, perhaps, but not writing it ever again.

When I got my iPad this summer, I don't think I knew how much it would change my life. People talk about it that way--using this sort of big language about epic changes. I was sceptical, but I am less sceptical now. As a teacher, it has been wildly helpful in keeping things on track and being able to access things I need at any time. I thought that this might be the case, but I didn't think it would be as profound as it has been. It's been quite profound. The typing on it, which people complain about, is just something you have to get used to I think. Something you have to learn (comment here about the unwillingness of people to learn new technology, for it to just work in a way that they have expected it to). I have not brought my laptop with me yet, and today, I will be looking at my article and making comments in a text file to later insert into the Word file at home. Works well. Very well.

So what next. The countryside of Buckinghamshire is rushing by as I speed into London. I teach narrative today and an introduction to communication techniques, and then it will be the weekend. A real weekend, I guess, with no work to really do, although I'm sure that I will find some way to keep myself busy with an article or answering emails or something. The ending to this Great British adventure is coming, but not just yet.

10 October 2012


So a couple of days ago I had three videos open in my browser: a Chief Keef music video, a Jay-z concert in Brooklyn, and the Mormon National Assembly video. All three were interesting for how they displayed the different ways people can and do view the world.

Chief Keef, for those who don't follow Chicago hip-hop or read the New York Times, is a 17 year-old rapper who, for reasons I still don't quite understand, had been hailed as the next big thing. As far as I can tell, he's pretty damn boring, but because there has been so much violence in Chicago in his demographic and he raps about violence, he's in the news. The video of him rapping about things he doesn't like (brilliant, yes, I know) is just him and his crew trying to look bad ass with their shirts off. There are no women in the video, and the men are all dancing together, holding up guns, and touching each other. I read homoeroticism but that's because I read homoeroticism into everything that I see. It would be silly, something you wouldn't take seriously (all the 'bang, bang' and gun gestures) if they weren't actually getting shot at and shooting other people. It's childish, but also real, very terrifyingly real.

If you read the New York Times article, you get the sense that Chief Keef doesn't seem to get how the world works in some basic ways. Like, if you threaten someone on twitter, you can't just delete the post and make it go away. Or you can't post a picture of you getting 'tip' from a woman on Instagram and expect that this will be okay. It won't. Not ever. Not in this world. People are talking about how Chief Keef is encouraging violence as well, and you get the sense listening to him talk and rap is that he doesn't get the connection between his image and his display of weapons and the influence this has on others. Just doesn't occur to him. He's just Chief Keef, a guy saying what he feels.

Of course, this is why he is interesting to the rest of us white people trying to understand violence in the intercity of Chicago. He animates the violence, gives it a face and voice and something to analyse. Otherwise, it's just cars passing, drive-by shootings (on Michigan Ave, can you believe it, my parents report to me).

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, another group of historically oblivious people, the Mormons, were having their own display of weaponry, with a huge choir of (white) Mormons singing very syrupy music about how great Jesus is. The presentation was all geared toward a specific aesthetic, one that I don't think still exists in popular culture, with the huge pipe organ and robes. Who still thinks this signifies a good thing? It's creepy. Very creepy. The comparison and contrast to Chief Keef, however, is fascinating. Locked in, tied down, immersed, oblivious. How do people who aren't like you perceive this? If you put it on the Internet and ask me to watch it (which is how I got there: a Mormon tweeter encouraged me to watch it), how am I supposed to react?

Jay-Z then, at the Barclays centre in Brooklyn. Jay-z was bloated and happy, rapping over pre-recorded tracks that sounded tired and old. Not like the Watch the Throne stuff which was huge and epic and had swagger drunk with opulence and display of wealth: it was slower, less abrasive interesting to watch. Jay said that Jackie Robinson's wife was there: he was honoured by her presence (and then rapping I have 99 problems but a bitch ain't one). Unlike Keef and that fat, old white guy (pick any of them) at the Mormon thing, Jay-Z looked like someone who knew: knew that he was too old to be doing this, but wise enough to take the money and sell his music to a crowd of people that doesn't include anyone listening to Chief Keef. White people, like me, who don't really like violence, but like to imagine the world Jay came from. Jay-Z seems like he's standing between two worlds, not really at home in either, but no way to either go back to where he came from or be fully accepted where he is. Keef scares me, Jay-Z doesn't. That's the point, right?

Obviously, I relate most to Jay-Z of these three options, but I have to say that I am most intrigued by Keef. What happens to him, all insecure and talented, with people literally and metaphorically gunning at him. What happens to him. I suspect he gets gunned down.

08 October 2012

Daylight fading

When we see the early signs that daylight's fading
We leave just before it's gone

05 October 2012

On the road

Funny how things just suddenly change and you are doing something completely different. In the first week of September, I was without work and worried about the thesis, waiting for comments from my supervisors and wondering what would become of me. Now, I am on the train, riding to London to teach a class at a university that three weeks ago, I had barely just heard of. At the beginning of September I had no job, no prospect for work. Now I am teaching 12 hours a week through the end of the year with a full-time post lined up on the other side (more on that later). The thesis has been submitted and I am now just waiting for it to be all over. One week I'm starving, the next week I'm feasting.

The feeling is not as jarring as I thought it would be, particularly going from writing to teaching. The first week was strange, awkward at first, but within five minutes of standing in front of the group for the first time, I was suddenly relaxed. The words came naturally and the feeling that maybe I had not prepared enough went away (it always does). The lesson expanded and contracted where it needed to and suddenly, I was a teacher again. I have always been a teacher. I like the feeling of being in front of people, of having the floor. It's something you don't have when you're writing, alone with your thoughts.

I remember this from teaching in Japan, particularly when I was teaching in the elementary school for the first time. I loved the feeling of being in front of the kids and making them light up with interest in whatever it was that I was teaching. Now, I am teaching language and literature in central London, the thing that I have always wanted to teach in the place that I have always wanted to teach. Amazing how these things happen.

The feelings about the thesis, thankfully, have brightened a bit. I mean, the same sentiment from last week is there, that I abandoned rather than finished it, but talking with other people in the department, this is a very normal feeling and nothing to worry about. It's just the way that people feel when they submit. I am starting to feel like I can see the forest for the trees as it were, like things are going to be okay in the end and I will be able to defend what I have done when the time comes. We'll see though. When I open it up again in a couple of weeks, I'm sure that I will have a whole new set of feelings.

I did, however, finish up my book proposal and should have a sense, before the viva, of whether or not the publisher wants to go forward with it. If I have something approaching a book contract going into the viva, I suspect that I will feel a bit more confident and not be too worried about it. Again, we'll have to see.

Otherwise things are going well. There was a sudden illness in our circle of friends. It's odd how in a day, an hour, a minute life can change. I got a phone call at ten on Wednesday night: I had already been in bed for like an hour. When I woke up, I wondered if it had been a dream, although I knew that it wasn't. Now we just wait for news from the hospital. Have things gotten better or worse? What sort of future will they have even if they recover? We have been delegated the responsibility of watching their dog (and another dog they were watching for their own friends). The kids love it, walking around in the dusk with the two dogs on leads. I feel like a father, pushing the pram with a small dog on a lead, talking to my wife about our future, our kids' future. Last night, before we went, I had drank too much wine and was feeling open and happy. There was nothing to worry about for now... Of course, things can change.

03 October 2012

This one

Kids are so silly sometimes. Last night, this one screamed and screamed and then in the morning was like, 'Dada! Gakkou!' That's right, I'm going to school, you were an absolute PILL last night. Have you forgotten about that? I was trying to sleep: your high pitched squeal just about KILLED me, man. KILLED me. 

Dada, hug. Dada, kisses. Okay—we can be okay now. 

30 September 2012


'Theses are not finished, they are abandoned.' - guy I know quoting guy he knows
I submitted my thesis yesterday around noon. Printed it, put it in a box, and mailed it. Bam. Done.

This might seem like a bit of a change of tune from my last post. It was. I got an e-mail on Friday morning from my main supervisor saying that it was 'nearly there' and she had sent in the needed forms. 165 comments, all minor. Comments came from my second supervisor that night: four pages of typos to fix. I had done it all by the time I went to bed on Friday. Got up, printed it out once to fix all the main errors: formatting things, etc. And then it was done.

In the end though, I didn't feel like I had finished so much as just stopped. I could have worked at it for another hour, another day, another week. I just put it in the box and said I was done.

This was after praise from my supervisors about the quality of it. They said good things, used words like 'great' although I was supremely sceptical. I wanted to hear the truth. Tell me the truth. It's not great. It's done. It's not done, it's submitted. Now, instead of worrying about something that I can fix, I worry about things I can't fix. Last minute changes I made. Had I edited in new errors? How bad is it? Did I format that table right? I checked this, but not that.

I said during a presentation that theses need to be narratives of failure. Of course you didn't do it right. You're a student. If you think you did something worth writing home about, you're fooling yourself.

I was angry when I finished. I just wanted... something. To stop. To feel like I had stopped. We had pizza, everyone went to bed and I drank whiskey. I never drink whiskey. What now? Celebrate. Buy shoes?

Nothing. This process was so lonely, why did I think the ending of this part would be anything different. It's never felt good, why would the ending feel good. I go to work now, starting Monday. Marking, teaching, marking, teaching, and waiting for the viva.

I will feel better about it in time, I think. Just not now.

26 September 2012

Finished, but not 'finished'

I had an illuminating conversation today about my PhD, which will not, it appears, be submitted by the end of this week. My thesis is finished, it is submitable, and it will pass. Those three things are big things and I should be happy about them. My thesis is not yet printed and submitted for examination and won't be for another 10 days–2 weeks for a couple of reasons: there are (probably) still things I can fix. Things that make the thesis read better, make a better impression, and make the examiners reading it think, 'This is good' rather than, this is submitable. This changes the whole viva process, making it more likely about the problems that you can never fix with the thesis, but are excusable, rather than the problems with the thesis that are fixable and you will be required to fix after the viva. So, in my supervisor's eyes, if my viva is going to be in the last two weeks of November (which we have agreed on) and I have to submit 6 weeks in advance of that, then actually, my real deadline is 5–15 October. The end of September was just what I wanted, the date that meant I had finished in my funding period, but that's just a personal thing. Has no bearing on anything, actually.

So my supervisors will get back their comments to me by the end of the week and I will work some more, and then submit before 15 October. That's what will happen and I will feel bad, but not too bad.

I started teaching yesterday which was really nice. I am finally teaching literature, something I have always been qualified to do, but have never had a chance to actually do. I love it. We had a really good class, I think. I always hated literary theory, but I love stylistics. It's empirical, right? I have been planning my lectures  like this: text I like + form of discourse analysis = class. This week? Lexical cohesion + A hunger artist. Next week? On the road + narrative structure. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

And I'm back to hurry up and wait. Hurrying to wait.

24 September 2012

The eye

I'm back in the eye of the storm: thesis in to the supervisors again, but hopefully coming back with fewer comments and potentially close enough that I will be able to submit it. My goal was the end of this week to submit, but I'm about 85% that isn't actually going to happen now. My supervisor is saying she'll get notes back by that date and I actually have to teach on Friday. So I suspect my new deadline is sometime before 15 October (to be sure to get my viva done by the end of November). This is frustrating to me, but in the same way that it was frustrating when I ran the marathon this Spring and ran six minutes slower than I wanted. The time was still great, but it wasn't as great as I wanted it to be. I think, however, this is actually a good thing for me. I've never been an A student, always B+. Never quite there. That means that I keep trying.

But, a couple of weeks ago I was talking about all the things I was going to have to do to stay sane while being underemployed, and then I fell off the map. That was, mainly, because I am not going to be underemployed in the short term. I got a slew of part-time teaching hours (starting tomorrow!). So although I am now wicked busy, I am paid. And being paid is great. I said to a friend of mine, 'I have more money than I know what to do with,' before realising that is not actually the case. I have more money than no money, and that's certainly, certainly a good thing.

So I am working on a couple of things this week as I wait: updating the CV, working on a book proposal. This and that.

I'm teaching at the University of Westminster and at Middlesex, if you're interested. The University of Westminster used to be Regent St. Polytechnic, which is where Pink Floyd formed. That's, you know, pretty cool, I think. The class I'm teaching is also something I'm really excited about: Literary Linguistics. Things are coming together. At least a little bit.

There's more to say, but nothing I blog about at the moment.

My brother and I have been having these talks that I'm posting. I hope some of you think they're interesting. Obviously we enjoy doing it.

12 September 2012

It starts to rain again

The eye of the storm has passed: my thesis draft is back to me. I revise, send back by 21 September. Then we'll see if I need another draft or not. 

News otherwise, but I can't get to it yet. Soon.

10 September 2012

Underemployed Week -3 Goals


  1. Blog everyday, including some real, navel-gazing shit.
  2. Start work on articles for two ISI-listed journals. Titles:
    • Christians and psychopaths: Categorisation in YouTube 'drama' 
    • 'It's all red ink': Extending Biblical metaphorical language in YouTube videos
  3. Apply for at least one industry job in the States. (Completed 10 September!)
  4. Study five pages of jr high Japanese-English dictionary (vocabulary building and review)
That's enough, I think. 

07 September 2012

On being underemployed

This week, I am taking a test run at being underemployed. I submitted my final draft of my thesis to my supervisors on Monday and will be waiting to get their comments back on 17 September. Until then, I don't really have a lot going on. I have to apply for a couple of jobs, finish an article I promised an online magazine in June, and mark an essay for Birmingham. So far, I have been marginally successful. On Tuesday, the first day I was home, I didn't really have a chance to feel it. I worked in the garden and spent more time than I needed to working on my bike. Wednesday was the girls' first day of school (including Mei). Mei goes for only three hours a day, so we have to pick her up (or take her) in the middle of the day. That ends up taking more time than you would think. Now it's Friday.

I've done the things I've been putting off: updating my passwords for different websites, doing some budgeting, thinking about what we should do. I was offered teaching hours at Middlesex, where I have taught for the last three years, which I hadn't expected and was happy to hear. It's 6 hours over 3 days though, which means I have to spend about £52 a week commuting. I might be able to cut that down to £31 if I can ride my bike. But still, it's not great. And they might be able to offer me more hours. Lots of mights and maybes at this point. The good news is that it doesn't look like we will be bleeding out money and we may get close to making up the base salary I'm made as a PhD student. Considering our savings, we could continue on easily until next May at this pace. It essentially buys us 8 months and if I've learned anything in my life, everything can change in 8 months.

It puts off some the nasty reality of making an International move with no job prospect, which is nice. The peace, however, I would feel with going on to Expedia and buying 5 tickets back to Japan... well, it won't be coming for a while. It becomes much, much less likely.

So being underemployed. From what I can tell, I need to do a couple of things to stay sane while I'm doing this. First, get dressed every morning and/or exercise. I'm not doing well today, but I did run so that's something. Second, shave. Third, do something towards the future, be it working on an article, working on part-time work, updating CV and cover letters, applying for a job... something. Luckily, come October, teaching will occupy at least three days of my week and will have some exercise built into it.

And hopefully, a job will come. I'm confident it will. Here, there, somewhere. It's just a matter of time. But I need to not be waiting for that to happen—I need to enjoy 7 September 2012, my feet on the ground in this place, at this time. The job will come soon enough, but I need to do my best to enjoy the here and now for all that it offers. The warm let down into Autumn. The sounds of the girls laughing. The ability to open the window another day. Worry never goes away, regardless of how much money is coming every month...

First Day of School 2012

No crying? Can't believe it!

28 August 2012

Four years ago

We packed up and said goodbye to Japan. Two of them didn't even exist:

24 August 2012

Getting older, binning what we don't need

These are random thoughts: unrelated ones.

Today, I was cleaning out my file cabinet. What had I saved over the years? Notes, lots of notes about things I thought were important for my research 4 years ago. I had so many notes, articles I had printed out. Conference programmes. A never ending pile of paper. I binned it all: just like that. No going back and forth about it. Bin, bin, bin. And now I have an empty filing cabinet.

My thesis briefly hit 100,000 words today and I immediately deleted one of my appendix tables that I don't think I really needed, bringing me back to 97,500 words. There are enough things that the thesis is missing at this point that I can't afford to waste that space. 

There are little things I'm proud of in the thesis. My use of the en-dash between numbers, rather than a simple dash. 

I also have these contrasting overwhelming feelings of 'Oh my god, I actually did it' and 'I have no idea what I'm talking about'. Perhaps this is how it's supposed to feel at the end. I am also going back and forth between feeling like it's finished and feeling like I have months and months to go. I did, however, run into my supervisor and a person she's working with on her project, and in talking about me, she said, 'Stephen is nearly finished.' I'd never heard her say that. It was shocking. Really? I wanted to say. I'm almost done? 

Mia is walking now—how bizarre is that. Two years ago Yoko and I talked about having her for the first time. Two years. 'How time can move both fast and slow amazes me.'

23 August 2012

Beginning to say goodbye

My corner desk at the OU is just about the safest place I have in the world, but now it's time to start saying goodbye. Today is 23 August. I got comments on my literature review from my supervisor, the last uncharted territory in the thesis. I had been working on it, but my supervision team hadn't seen most of it or any of it put together. The comments came back positive though: large parts are reading well. Today, I send the second draft of the discussion chapter and then, in the afternoon, begin working on the comments on the literature review which I started yesterday. I will get those done by the end of the day, I hope. Or close to being done. That leaves tomorrow until a week from next Monday (3 September) to clean up the whole of the thesis and make sure there are no glaring omissions before I send it in to my supervisors. 

And then? Well, 4 September I will not come into work, most likely. I will need to wait until the comments come back from my supervisors (due 17 September). When I get those comments, I will work on them for about ten days and then, if everything is okay, submit on 28 September. At this point, submission before the end of my funding looks more likely than it has all summer. 

But all I will have between sending the draft to my supervisors and their comments is an article I owe to an online magazine. Both Naomi and Mei will start school during that time, so I will be able to be completely engaged in that. I can finally get my bike fixed. Hopefully I'll have at least one job interview. I can go to Starbucks with Yoko in the morning. 

I am also applying for jobs and it could all happen very quickly, particularly if I start work anywhere but the UK (seeing as I won't have to wait the 4–14 weeks for the UKBA to approve my application). In a couple of weeks, everything will likely change, sometime between now and December. 

All that to say, my time at my corner desk is limited. Very limited. So I have begun the inevitable, opening the drawers and going through the things I have: what to bin, what to save. Starting to take down photos and postcards from my wall. Bin articles I thought I needed. Bin old drafts of chapters (god, how did I think this was anything worth reading?). Bin or take home all the implements of my dieting from the last two years. Not weighing my food any more is a success, evidence of something I learned. I don't have to follow my food intake meticulously on Calorie Count: I know how much I've eaten and how many kilocalories are in whatever I just ate.

Ending this period in my life the way that it appears to be ending has been good. I am feeling less like I have failed and more like I may have, in a limited way, said something new with my research. My family is stronger than when we started, something that was certainly not a given. I still don't have a job, but that will come in time. I'm feeling healthy, less obsessive. 

There's still a long way to go, but the end is in sight. I can see the end now.

21 August 2012

A resurgance

I've written at least for two days in a row. And for the same reason: I am avoiding my work.

I've learned, however, how important avoiding your work is in your PhD because while you are avoiding your work, you think. You think hard and you think long. You think about this and you think about that. And when you come back (and you need to come back) you have something to say.

I'm working on the ten most important paragraphs of my thesis. They are in the conclusion where I say, 'This, in six paragraphs, is what happened, and this, in four paragraphs, is why it matters.' These paragraphs need to have all the dross boiled out. They need to have all intricacy of the analysis concisely and precisely stated in active sentences that start with 'Categorisation was...' rather than 'The findings suggest that'.

I finished seven weeks of counselling yesterday. I haven't said much about it here, just comments here and there that you may or may not have noticed. It was good: it was very good, actually. I recommend it for anyone who sees themselves becoming someone that they don't want to be.

Anyway, Resurgam: I will rise again.

20 August 2012

Stalled when you can't stall

The sky is a fish, my three year-old daughter says, looking up. Autumn clouds, my wife says.

My daughter is understanding and talking about clouds in comparison to fish, I think: how could this be evidence of a cognitive mapping?

This is what happens when you get a PhD in metaphor studies. You ruin the world for yourself.
It's Monday morning, again, and I have sent my supervisors a draft of my literature review. 18,000+ words of the thesis, so a biggish part of it. I have 'finished' it, to my liking at least, and then done a once over on the methods which was probably under 10,000 words, but is now close to 13,000 because I added in what was Chapter 5 (Description of Data) to now be a part of Chapter 4. That gets me up to the 16–110 pages of 317 in good shape (for me, again, not for my supervisors). I also spent some time cleaning up my references and adapting APA to meet the needs of my citations, which you can do at the OU. You can actually use any citation system you want (make up your own!) provided it is consistent and it allows the examiners easy access to the materials. That was pages 285–306. 307–317 is Appendices and also in good shape. So now, I have to work on my abstract (first set of notes back from supervisor) and then work on Chapter 9, my conclusion, to send to them by midday Thursday. The abstract and the conclusion, although very short (well, the conclusion is still like 6,000 words, abstract is 300) need to be pure gold. The purest gold.

Still, I send something to my supervisors and I've learned, after almost four years of doing this, that what I think is good enough is not good enough and will need to be retooled. At this point, however, we're running out of time. The viva panel is set. Next comes the viva date (mid/late November). Once that's set then I have a hard deadline for submitting the thesis (six weeks prior to the viva). Now, I'm shooting for 28 September, but depending on the date of the viva, I could get another two weeks if I want them. I don't though. I want to submit within my funding period. Call it a personal goal.

This is boring shop-talk, but what is consuming my life now with stress. I was doing good dealing with the stress until this morning when I just ate and ate and ate. I finally got on my bike and left, but it was not good. I get so, so hungry when I'm stressed.

We did, as a family, have a good time this weekend and I managed to avoid, like the plague, my own aggression and anger. The counsellor I've been seeing said to me about three weeks ago, 'Aggression is pretty useless emotion, don't you think?' I agreed. I mean, not historically and not all the time. But around the house? Definitely. With your wife and kids? Definitely. So we went to the pool, had pizza on Saturday, went for a long walk yesterday, and then talked to my family last night. You can manage your aggression, I've found. When it wells up, you dismantle it instead of encouraging it. Everyone's happier, and you have control of yourself.


Our house is also falling apart. Doorbell broken, hob mostly not working, lawn mower broken. We are limping to the finish line.

And now, I need, need, need to get some sort of employment. Doing anything. Anywhere.

Sheeps, goats, and wolves. Which one are you?

19 August 2012


I'm sorry I've been so quiet. The PhD is really, truly coming to an end: I am working around the clock to get things together. My viva panel is set and they are working out the viva date. I am reading through what I have given the last four years of my life over to and thinking that I might have said something coherent, however small and insignificant it ends up being.

Moreover, I've felt an overwhelming sense of peace as this ends: that in less than two months I will not be opening this document every day and I will have said what I will say for my PhD. The peace is spilling over into the rest of my life, in wanting to linger in the park with my children and a relative slowness of anger. A kind of secular conversion, almost--giving up and giving in to the world that I has been created around me. A kind of preconscious faith in whatever is.

The last two lines of my Bakhtin poem are:
I love you.
Stay with me.

07 August 2012

01 August 2012

30 July 2012


Two months left in my PhD and I am stalled again on a Monday morning.
Did so much with the kids this weekend: had so much fun with them. They're pretty great. Yoko was sick though, so I ended up cooking and looking after the kids more than I normally would. As fate would have it, I woke up this morning with the same cold that Yoko had and needing to come to work.

And here I am at work. It's 10AM. I need to make good progress today, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. 

Not Tuesday though. Tuesday I have a job interview.

I want to blog about other things: about Frank Ocean and Mitt Romney and high-fat diets. But I'm just not in the frame of mind. One day, I promise, I'll try again.