28 February 2012

There's a pun here, I'm sure

So it's almost March, isn't it. The end is close, approaching like... well, I'm all out of metaphorical conceptions of endings: end is a metaphor vehicle in that sentence anyway.

What do I want to talk about? Writing and running, of course. Both going well, although instead of posting word counts and times from today, I'm trying to stay focused on the qualitative descriptions of them. Because word counts in theses only matter if the words are good—I've said that. I've deleted 50,000 words of what I wrote last year. Delete is the wrong word. Set aside. What I am writing now, though, is the same thing, said differently. Does that make sense?

It's all so basic on some level: taking data from the analysis, make a table, talk about the table, talk about the three things you found and how they answer your research question. Be concise, be precise. Write a bit everyday. Don't write too much. Keep making progress, but make sure the progress follows a trajectory.

Running has been about keeping my feet from hurting. That is not a metaphor. Today I missed my alarm and got up at 5:40, panicked because I overslept. Sleeping to 5:40 is oversleeping? It can't be. I got on the road before 6 though, and the pace of running soon took over, thoughts of my thesis overcoming me, then thoughts of my daughters, then wife, then conversations from last week, then conversations from five years ago. On and on while the sun came up. You forget you are running. You are just a body. In the middle of Linford Wood, I checked my time and thought that I would pick up my pace until the end. I wanted to do eight miles in less than an hour.

I stopped recording everything I was eating at Calorie Count in an attempt to identify burnout before actually burning out. This is the next step in my healthy lifestyle, to shift from obsession to healthy care of my body. The obsession phase, I realised, is important—it serves as a disturbance in the system to move towards a different stability, but disturbance is not stability. It needs to move you towards something. The disturbance of the marathon training is a great one, but I am already thinking about what I will do the week after the marathon. What is the future anyway.

Every week is a new job application, a new job to think about. When one of these works out, when I get a ticket to ride for another two years somewhere, things will change, the end will become clearer, easier to conceptualise. With plane tickets, dates of departure. Boxes full of things to ship or sell or give away. Yoko has already started this process and I will follow soon enough.

22 February 2012

20 February 2012

Running fast, writing slow

Daily Run 
  4.02 mi
6:53 min/mi 27:43 475 kCal
Thesis run
41,414 words
Revising methods
Mild Confusion/ Distraction

Did it take me a half hour to get that table to look exactly the way I wanted it to? Yes. Yes, it did. But learning HTML that's like a real skill, right? Something that might be marketable.

The weekend was good, thanks for asking. Unfortunately, at about 14:00 on Sunday afternoon, I feel incredibly tired though. And I have this series of thoughts:
  1. I'm incredibly tired
  2. I suspect running yesterday is contributing to that
    1. God, I love running
  3. I probably should not drink so much coffee before I go to bed
Then 18:00 rolls around, I've eaten and I have this series of thoughts:
  1. I'd like some coffee
Of course, this series of thoughts should a) actually be a series and b) include the key second thought: 2. I think I should probably abstain as I want to sleep through the night. But no. I drink the coffee and I get up at 01:00 and 03:00 and then at 05:00 when I think, Great, I can go running now!

And then I run.

Speaking of running, stretching and the minimalist shoes have solved my injury problems I think. At least the initial ones. And my time today was smoking hot, although I did work for it like nothing else. Go faster, go harder. Weight and injury considerations aside, I think I'm going to be able to beat my PB for sure and well improve on my initial goals too. Provided I stay healthy. 

Where's my thesis in all this? I'm not sure. I want to add some more descriptors to the 'Thesis Run' column seen above, but all those descriptors are qualitative, not quantitative. And actually, although I have 41,414 words in my thesis document, whether that means anything or not is hard to tell. It probably doesn't mean much, if I'm honest. I don't need to write more; I need to write better.

Metaphorical conception of PhD identified above, in natural written English: Writing your thesis is finding an object in the dark

The weather was cold this morning, but the weekend had hints, great hints in temperature and earthy, wet aroma, of Spring. No job, no thesis, and an uncertain future? None of this matters if the weather is nice.

We also went, as a family, to Starbucks: my idea of a Sunday morning well spent. On the way to Starbucks, however, we have to pass by an attorney's office, one that specialises in divorce. I always feel uncomfortable as we pass it—they have a room you can clearly see with toys for kids to play with while their lives fall apart. There are these awful advertisements, crayon-drawings of crying women, hung in the window with captions about Daddy not just hitting the roof when he's angry. I have another series of thoughts when we pass, thoughts corrupted by a mix of fear and sickness, and simultaneous pride in our little family.

We're just about to pull the trigger on the plane tickets to the States. 31 May–11 June. I'm waiting— wondering if I should wait—for the visa to come through. The cost of the tickets might go up. It might not. we'll have to see. I think if the UKBA doesn't send us anything in the next week and doesn't make any requests for more documentation, I'm going to pull the trigger. And I'm genuinely looking forward to it. My maths-literate younger sister appears to be planning a helluva good show, which, in my petty, selfish world means she picked out the best possible suit and tie for us groomsmen. Moreover, the famed older brother will be coming up early to hang with me, wife, and the chicklets for five or six days before we head up north for the big event.

Thesis be damned! Marking be damned! Job search be damned!

19 February 2012


Six years ago, Yoko and I had our Engagement Ceremony, a Japanese shinto thing done, in our case, in our church at the time:

17 February 2012

Diet tips for sinners

I'm testing some html/tagging stuff with my blog and going to see if I can snag someone searching this exact phrase. Here are my tips, fatty:

  • You're not a sinner—you're just another guy/gal trying to make sense of the world like the rest of us.
  • You're eating too much. You know how I can tell? You searched 'diet tips for sinners'. 
  • Exercise is great. You need to exercise. But until you get a handle on what you're putting in your mouth, you're screwed. Sorry. You can only exercise so much. That's a key entry in my 'diet tips for sinners' list.
  • Balance what you eat. This is one of the most important 'diet tips for sinners'. Eat less, eat right.
  • So, you've been unimpressed with these 'diet tips for sinners'? You were hoping for something else? How about this: eat more protein. 
Look, these 'diet tips for sinners' are not magic, but they are a starting point. Try googling 'Bible verses for weight loss'. You might find something about getting wings like an eagle or something.

15 February 2012

The Weeknd and the Rosary

Last month, I was excited about The Weeknd with my typical religious, evangelical fervour, telling everyone about the mixtapes, sending them off, and generally enthused. Drugs, sex, rock 'n roll, and heavy beats on my new 'good' headphones.

And then a new remix of House of Balloons came out today and I eagerly downloaded it. And it's great, don't get me wrong, it's great, but I'm having pangs of regret about my initial excitement about the records, particularly the orientation towards gender relations in the lyrics. I get the mixture of sex and drugs, doing drugs as a metaphor for sex, sex as a metaphor for doing drugs, yes, very nice, but it's still...about sex. And a kind of sex that's not particularly egalitarian. It's centred on male pleasure and the use of women as sex objects and the portrayal of women deriving pleasure from being sex objects. That's what it is. And it's a bigger problem, it's the problem I have with Danny Brown (whom I still love, by the way) and hip hop/R&B in general. I want to love it, but I'm not sure how much I can intellectualise away the the nastiness, the 'awful' bits. Yes, perhaps it is people/men representing their experience, or how they idealise an experience. Yes, perhaps the culture which artists embed in encourages a certain orientation towards gender relations and representation. Perhaps, yes...Yes, yes, yes. But still: it is what it is. He's singing what he's singing and slice it any way you want, it's not what I want to be morally acceptable, at least in my 'liberal enough' world. You can't just say, Forget what he's saying exactly, isn't he saying it well. No, unfortunately, you can't do that.

So. What do I do. The music is great. His voice is great. It sounds great on my 'good' headphones, and there's no point in having 'good' headphones if you don't have any bass and there is little or no good hip-hop/R&B without some sort of 'awfulness' in this sense. It's a part of the swagger of the music, what makes it so damn good to listen to. So. Do I just keep listening to white guys who look like me whine about their white, getting-close-30-now problems? What do I do.

I have a similar issue with a piece of jewellery I recently acquired. A piece of jewellery—who am I kidding: I got a rosary. I've wanted one for a very, very long time, and the maths-literate younger sister's fiancé sent me one. A beautiful one—an absolutely great gift for me. I've wanted a rosary for a long time because I used part of the Hail Mary as an epigraph for the novella I wrote as part of a college honours project. It embodied the whole ethos of the story. My grandmother prayed the rosary as she died as well. It brought her a great deal of comfort and it brings me a great deal of comfort, not because I believe it carries any power, but because I believe in keeping objects to remind me of what I believe, not what other people believe about the same objects. I like re-appropriating religious symbols, a kind of subtle subversion in response to being called to submit to them. I bought a Japanese Shinto 御守 Omamori when I applied for the studentship at The Open University the second time. It was on my keychain and every time I saw it, I remembered: I have a goal and with hard work and some luck, I will get there. I just can't forget my goal.

The rosary reminds me of what I believe, but it has nothing to do with Catholicism, and everything to do with wanting to have a thing, a kind of good luck charm to hold, to wear when I run, and to remind me of all the goals I have in my little life and how hard work and little luck will bring success.

My famed older brother, in his typical ability to call out my bullshit, called bullshit on me in a chat:
19:33 So, here's the thing about your rationalist appropriation of the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Rosary, and Shinto shrines at least in terms of it's public appropriation. It's all very middle class and white."Your symbols are bullshit in terms of what YOU think they mean.   But I'll be happy to use them for my own individualist psychological purposes." 19:34 This I can imagine would be at first confusing.And then would feel horribly rude.   "Oh, you're catholic too? I see your rosary" "No no, total shite. It centers me though so that's cool." 19:35 I wonder if you couldn't draw comparisons to the attempt by the white southerner to attach some more benign meaning to the confederate flag. 19:36 In principle I suppose you could make it mean something else.  But you can't really completely (certainly not quickly or abruptly) divorce symbols at the very least from their historical context and historical use by the community and historical understanding.  19:37 I really want to wear the Keffiyah but I worry it would confuse muslims and would be read as mockery. my reasons are strictly aesthetic (and a little rebellious) but I don't know.
See, with the exception of the Shinto example (given Shinto's very different approach to everything), he's right. I had the rosary around my bag and I was thinking, people can think whatever they want, it means what it means to me. But I can't. I can wear it when I run, keep it out of sight and keep the meaning for myself, I suppose. But I can't say it means something that it doesn't mean in the context that I live in.

These two threads intersect, I think: The Weeknd and the rosary. I can derive the meaning I want from these objects, I can intellectualise it, but the moment I try to spin the top of my own meaning in the world of contexts, there are deep, deep attractors in the field, deep depressions on the plane of meaning that my top is bound to spin into. And people will think what people normally think because that's the way things are. The world is a world of contexts and all these symbols and words make sense in that context. Not Stephen's context.

Pray for us now and in the hour of our death. I know what this means to me, but I can't make it mean that for you...

Marathon Training

I was thinking I would struggle to follow a marathon training schedule and make time for it, but I haven't missed a run in 7 and half weeks10 more to go, more or less. Someone one at school asked me how I was finding the time, and really, it's been quite simple: run instead of dawdle. Usually, my day consists of getting up at 6 or 6:30, going to work, coming home, helping get the kids in bed, and then dawdling from 8:30 to 11ish. I do some work sometimes, particularly if I have marking to do, but usually this is very quiet, albeit unproductive, time. Which is fine, we need quiet, unproductive time. I've just tried to cut it to 9:30, go to bed, get up at 5:30 and run. I was always nervous about running this early in the morning, before the sun comes up, but as the street/pathlights are on at this time and I'm not running with headphones any more, it's really great. Perfectly quiet. The hooligans have gone to bed by this point, and you've hit the tipping point from one day to the next. Nobody out (particularly if you get out before 5) and no cars to contend with. Just your body, with your consciousness filling it up like a balloon.

When I first started running in 2005, it was all about how far I could go. I couldn't believe it—run continuously for... a hour? Two hours? Three hours? When I ran my first home-made marathon in 2009, it was really about the ultimate achievement, of getting to some goal, fuelled by my reading of Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human. Last year, it was about getting healthy again. This year... It's been about two thingsthe first is staying healthy, and not just in the sense that I've thought about it in the past. I've been really careful not to injure myself and keep my eating healthy and balanced. The second will be about getting a good time, something significantly better than my Personal Best, which should be easy enough as I think it's like 4:08:00 on the home-made marathons.

I've changed my shoes to the minimalist trainers: the Vibram Five fingers and have run on them for about a week and a half at this point. They feel really good and help you think about and adjust your gait and foot strike. With regular shoes, you don't think that much about how your foot is hitting the ground because you don't really feel it. With the Vibrams (and barefoot running more generally) you are very aware of how your foot is striking the ground and whenever you have any pain anywhere in your leg, you can adjust the strike to avoid it. Your body as a complex system, not a running machine: imagine that. So this morning, I started off with some pain in my ankle, but quickly reworked my strike and gait to land on it more lightly, and take a shorter gait. The pain went away and I was back to my normal gait in about 10–12 minutes. Perfect. Without listening to music and spending the first five to ten minutes of the run doing a kind of diagnostic test on my body has really made the runs more enjoyable. And now, two hours after the run, different muscles are sore than were sore yesterday. Perfect.

The pace though... I'm running a sub-8 min/mi pace consistently on all of my short runs during the week and ran an 8:20 min/mi pace for my long run in the cold last week (just above a half marathon), but I would like to get to closer to an 8 min/mi pace on the long runs, and closer to a 7 min/mi pace (sub 7, even better) for my shorter runs during the week.

The speed goals, though, are all subservient to feeling good and not getting injured. And I'm happy about that so far. I have the eating figured out at this point and am starting to creep up in my caloric intake, although I realised that when you make changes to eating (except when you're trying to make a quick weight drop), it's best to deal with it incrementally and keep a very careful eye on what it is you're eating. Don't, if you need to add another 100 kCals to your diet, do it by eating 350 kCals of microwave popcorn. If you need more protein and fat (which I do), eat 15 peanuts. And yes, if you need to eat 15 peanuts, count out 15 peanuts, don't just eat some peanuts. Eat 15.

The sun is out in Milton Keynes today: the winter, after the storm last week, is done. Last year I made my first ride to work without gloves the day before the earthquake in Japan. I wrote about it. I wonder when that will be possible this year. My thesis, my new thesis, is now cannibalising writing that I've done in preparation for it. First the framework for analysis I did the last couple of months and then the writing from the first draft last year where much of the presentation of data, once re-oriented to the new findings (which aren't that new, just matured) can be used with some reworking.

14 February 2012

Your livelihood in an envelope

I have thrown my frail, deprived body on the machine of the UKBA once again.

If you ask a normal person what their passport means to them (if they have a passport--I'm looking your way, Americans), they will probably think you're an idiot. It doesn't mean anything. It means I can travel to Europe, if I want to, I guess.

If you ask a foreigner living abroad what their passport means, you'll get a different answer. It's everything. It's your livelihood, your ability to live where you are. It tells you what you can do in the country you're in. It tells you how long you can stay. If you're married to another foreigner, but one who doesn't have the same passport as you? There is a date, most of the time far off in the future, but there is a date where you both cannot, without some more paperwork, stay in the same location together. Your passport is everything.

For me, right now, my passport is a potential key to a new job: I need it to travel to job interviews, to potentially leave this country for work... And it's in this envelope and I'm sending it via registered mail to Durham. DH99, where the UK Border Agency office is.

Inside the envelope is a series of documents I have been acquiring for the last two months, but with a great deal more fervour in the last week. The main document is an application for a visa for my daughter, Mia. This application should be straightforward, but it isn't. The visa rules have changed since we arrived in the UK four years ago, but my daughter, however, as my dependant, must hold the same visa type as my other dependants, based on the old rules, not the new ones. So what you do (and what we did for Mei) is put in an FLR (O) form, a miscellaneous visa application, with a cover letter stating what you need a visa for. And you send off your passport and your daughter's passport and cross your fingers, hoping you included everything they might want to see. They immediately take the £550 out of your account for the application fee. And then you wait. If you wait 12 weeks, you can call them and enquire about the status of your application. Before that? You wait. The best part is that if they reject the application (for whatever reason they want), you lose the £550 and, if you want to challenge the decision, have to put up another couple of hundred quid and wait some more.

As Mia was born here while I was (and, of course, still am) legally a student, there should be no problem, but there's a small, a very small wrinkle. We have been claiming a benefit that we are, from everything I can tell, entitled to claim based on a reciprocal agreement between the US or Japan and the UK. Unfortunately, the UKBA is free to have a different opinion about whether we are entitled to claim this benefit or not.

If they say that we are not entitled to it (which has happened to another applicant I know in a very similar situation as me), then I have technically broken the law and any series of bad things might happen. Nothing too bad: I won't go to prison or anything (although that would solve my visa extension problems as well as, ironically, letting me suck on the national teat for a bit longer). Just lose a lot, a hell of a lot, of money. The most rational part of me very much doubts they will do anything: I have done everything to confirm that I am entitled to the money I've claimed. I'm not trying to scam anyone, man. We've been through the application process once with Mei without a problem. Still. Lots of changes in two years and they are rabid to get people out of this country. Particularly people they see as not contributing.

They? Who are they? I have metaphorised them as rabid, grouped as ANIMAL and MENTALLY ILL in my dataset. But who are they? I'm not sure. I'm not sure who open this envelope, who looks at this information and who decides what. They are real people, I'm sure.

I don't want to do this: if we didn't make this application we wouldn't apply for the visa and just leave the country when I finish my PhD (which is perfectly legal) or make a new application for a work visa if that (albeit incredibly dim) possibility works out. But as the maths-literate younger sister is getting married in the summer, I found myself in a tough place: do I just go and leave the family here? Do we spend the money and make the application? What do we do.

Obviously, the choice has been made to go and I think it's the right one: Yoko says that money is for this sort of thing, but all I can think about is the worst-case scenarios. What if they block the application. What if I have to go to a tribunal. What if I get a job interview next week and can't travel to it. What if, what if. 

The things one does for love--a good message on Valentine's Day, I guess, and there aren't a whole lot of people I love more in the world than my maths-literate younger sister.  These are ultimately small things, small sacrifices, the kind of things you don't remember in three years. We will be okay: even my own worst case scenario just results in a serious loss of money and the inability to live in this country for some time. And I've chosen this life for me and my family. It is full of adventure and excitement and challenge, but it does mean that for the rest of my life, until Yoko or I or both of us (depending on where, when, or if we settle and) acquire permanent residency somewhere, based on citizenship or whatever.

I'm sorry for the stress this causes to my daughters. And my wife. And my extended family. It is what it is now. It can't be changed. We should just keep taking things as they come and live the life we've chosen. And money is for spending on things that are not iPads.

UPDATE (16 February): Money taken from account. So we are moving forward.

12 February 2012

Comfort food

The famed older brother and I have been having a series of conversations about food over the last year, since he can eat at many of the places I fantasise about as an American living abroad. They're all places that I'm sure would a) ruin me if I lived close to or b) never actually eat at if I were around as they would ruin me, but still, I find looking at their websites to be fascinating and much healthier than actually eating there. My hobby? Seeing if I could find something that I actually could eat without falling off the horse and going back to fat Stephen. It's hard, but I manage to do it--a kind of practice for a potential move back, if that every becomes a real possibility.

The conversation this last week was about The Golden Corral, a staple of my childhood in El Paso, TX. The Golden Corral, for all the non-American readers of the blog, is everything you imagine America would be, or at least the way I imagine that you as a non-American imagine America (hinted at in the sorts of questions people ask me about the States). Everything at The Golden Corral is big. It's a buffet style restaurant, but you order a steak AND the buffet. And yes, the buffet has all-you-can-eat fried chicken, and yes, there is an all-you-can-eat desert bar (with a soft serve ice cream machine) and now, apparently, a chocolate fountain.

On Sunday afternoon, we used to go after church services at a Southern Baptist church called (ironically) 'Grace Baptist'. Insulated, obese Baptists as far as the eye could see, piously avoiding alcohol and drowning themselves in saturated fat while trying to pray away their hypertension and coronary heart disease (It runs in the family).

Or at least that's how I embody the memories of it in my thinner, albeit more bitter, 29 year-old self.   

So my brother went to The Golden Corral and one of the people he was with was kind enough to snap me a couple of photos, seen here.
Comfort food. How perfect, I thought, and how perfect that it has a corner all to itself. Comfort food: food that brings you comfort, the exact opposite of what I believe about the function of food these days and the problem with my life until I was 24, really. I asked Yoko about it, do you have a similar concept in Japan? but when pressed to explain what comfort food was, I didn't actually know. Is it a particular kind of food like mashed potatoes, or is it just simply a kind of food that gives you comfort, different for everyone... I didn't actually know.

Well, Wikipedia pretty much explains it, and it's pretty much all the worst things you can eat. They make you feel better while killing you, see the fireplace delusion.

In my memories of jr high school, the fatter, more insecure version of myself is filling up another bowl of ice cream and putting chocolate and caramel syrup and gummi bears on top of it and no one cares because we're all kids and kids are supposed to be able to eat whatever they want. No one is connecting the dots.

In posting these pictures my brother sent, I promised that I would not be judgemental. And I've been nothing but judgemental. I am thinking about running tomorrow morning as I type this sentence. If I get up after four, I'll leave immediately--running metaphorically from that fat kid who was constantly afraid and eating to feel better. Away from 19 year-old Stephen that judged everyone who drank alcohol at parties, but drank between 4 and 8 cherry cokes a day. Hey, but no pornography: I can lead others with moral authority!

Put down the soft-serve, 12 year-old Stephen. I promise, it'll be okay.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself

11 February 2012

'In' isn't a metaphor

This might be funny for other metaphor scholars.

See through

So you notice how you can see through the cartoon I posted above without a white background? An easy task, in theory, took me like an hour and half to get it to work. Typical: working on the wrong solution. The right solution was much simpler. Updating www.stephenpihlaja.com this time has taught me A LOT about html though.

I ran this morning from just before five to just before seven. 1:55:41. It was so cold, foggy, and icy. It's -3 (C) now, so is suspect it was even colder when the sun wasn't out. The water in my bottle froze, but it didn't matter because when it's that cold, you don't really sweat a lot. You have ice build up on your cheeks. I didn't dress properly, although I didn't wear my Vibrams, which was pretty damn wise in retrospect... Not hat (hood only), crappy thin gloves. Ugh. I thought I might get frostbite at one point. Well. A good enough time and end of my running for Week 7. I went 14 miles and left some on the course (I was running my fastest at the very end and thought I might have kept going if, you know, I wasn't about to freeze to death). My body is dumping fat like a mofo. I've lost 4 kgs. and 3% body fat in the last month, meaning that all or most of that weight was fat. Doesn't really matter, but the runner's body is starting to peak through again. Gaunt and efficient. The best part about long distance running is that you never have to run faster. You just have to keep going. Just keep going.

14 miles before the sun came up. I'm a different person than I was.

10 February 2012

Hey baby

Naomi has some confusion about what it means when your dad calls you 'baby'.

Fresh looks

If you're an RSS reader of the blog, it's worth a visit to the real deal. I decided to move my professional site to blogger for a cleaner, easier to navigate user experience and while I was at it, I updated my personal blog as well to follow the same themes. The tabs on the top link the two, as I am less worried about professional contacts finding this blog, now that it has officially been deemed 'dull' rather than 'embarrassing' or 'controversial' or worse yet, 'embarrassingly controversial'.

08 February 2012

Writing. Up.

I'm now, officially, writing up my thesis. I've known for a while that this process would start today, as I had a supervision meeting scheduled today, but getting there is pretty unbelievable. It's been a long, long road and this is the final stretch. The hardest part, I have been told, but we'll see if it comes to that.

Writing up. My supervisors have said again and again that one does not write up one's thesis--one only assembles what one has already written. I can see that. I have a lot of words already. I have writing done for every section and subsection of the document. More than that, actually: I have writing down to the 1.1.1.X level, writing that will be contained in the final document. I now have to look each part and the whole and start to put it together. The thesis should be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I am shooting for something close to 90,000, I think. I want to have a shorter thesis. I want it to be crisp and clean. I want it to read like white linen sheets that you slip between on a summer evening. How's that for a metaphor?

Writing up. In six months, the document will be done or very, very close to being done. I intend to submit on 1 August. That's less than six months and at this point, my trajectory is to make that goal. And then? And then what.

I said yesterday that I know what I want. I do. I want to be an academic. I don't want to work in industry. I don't want to live in one country or another at the expense of trying to be an academic. England, Japan, the States. I need to go where I can work on my research and teach, and have the money I need to do my research. The UK, although I am still hopeful and I still think my funding might work out, doesn't at this point in history seem to be that place. But, then again, things could change on a dime.

I'm going on a writing retreat in April at The Black Bull Hotel in Scotland from 21-22 April. By the end of April, I should have a complete draft of the thesis. Clean it up for a month. I will go to the US in June for a wedding. Clean it up some more. And more. And then it will be done.

I've finally filled in most of my Christmas gifts. Vibram five-finger running shoes and the new Leonard Cohen record. Both good for the body and the soul, or rather, the body. I got up at 4:40 this morning, itching to run. I was on the road by 5:05. I don't want to sleep, I only want to run and write, run and write, like falling into a black hole. Condensing and compiling. Deeper and denser, deeper and denser.

Writing up. I have 174 days until 1 August. Let's hope this all comes together. And I keep my tables formatted properly.

07 February 2012

You don't know what you want

This was the picture, the moment, I was trying to find/ remember yesterday:
It's impossible to make out Mei in this picture, but she's there too. We are leaving Niigata City behind: everything is in boxes and we got it all done, everything we needed done in time. What lies ahead? We don't know. The UK, a PhD, a new life.

I'm driving my wife crazy by talking about possibilities. I have to stop. This or how about this or how about this. There is pressure from every side to accomplish so many things. Please, let it all come together in time. Please, no one be angry with me--I'm doing my best.

Unfortunately making decisions about one's future requires knowing what future one wants. What future do you want, Stephen? One of them? All of them?

UPDATE: Wait, wait, wait. I know what it is I want. Silly me. Now, to go out and do it.

06 February 2012

The snow

I'm reminded of so many things when it snows:
  • Sledding yesterday, I was reminded of my childhood winters playing outside in Minnesota
  • The smell of a car in the cold air this morning while I was running reminded me of cold nights in Chicago in high school
  • The man shovelling the walk at school today and the warmer air with the snow reminded me of Niigata
  • Putting on my boots and rain gear yesterday also reminded me of Niigata, of riding my mini-cub.
In the last couple of days, I've had occasion to try and tell two people everything that happened to me in the last ten years. It's a long story, do you have a moment? 

Someone recently called my blog dull. It is dull. I'm happy with the dullness of my blog. Maybe my real life is dull too. If this blog just became me recounting my memories again and again, the same stories again and again, I would be content with that. I have tried and failed to be a popular or interesting blogger--I'm not capable of it. Here are more pictures of my kids, of my bag, of my hat, of my new rosary. It's like rummaging through a box of the most important things to me.

In your viva (the defence of your PhD, for the Americans out there), you answer the questions the examiners put to you and then you are told to leave the room while they make a decision about whether or not you passed. This will happen to me very soon--I will leave the room, walk to the kitchen and get a glass of water. I will look out the window into the Milton Keynes Autumn and close my eyes for a moment, remembering all the things that have brought me from some arbitrary moment in the past to that moment. I suspect it might be emotional.

Memories of snow aside, I also for some reason remembered the feeling of the day after you have a baby. It's a great feeling. One of the best in the world. Nothing matters--you had a baby during the night.


03 February 2012

I got nothing done today

I say that all the time: I got nothing done today. I realised I need to preface that: I feel like I got nothing done today. What did I do today?
05:45: Woke up, made breakfast, checked some e-mails, Internet stuff.
06:30: Marked two essays.
07:45: Kids wake up, Yoko gets them breakfast, I get Mia ready to leave.
08:20: Drive Yoko to the hospital for her eye exam, almost get re-ended by some asshole.
08:40: Take Naomi to school (wife a hero for doing this with three kids every day).
09:00: Get home, get Mei some food, help her go to the bathroom like three times, start to mark an essay.
10:30: Pick up Yoko at the hospital (not going blind).
10:45: Arrive home, pack up, ride bike to work.
11:30: After shower, finish marking essay, have lunch, mark another essay.
13:45: Have virtual writer's retreat, do some research, no one shows to retreat, decide to drop it.
14:30: Go to library to find book. Find book, not what I wanted, but read for a bit about some stuff I should know, but don't.
15:30: Back to desk, mark essay.
16:10: Shit! I've got nothing done today, should blog.
So when I say to you, I got nothing done today what I mean is, I didn't finish my thesis today. And so it goes.

I looked in the mirror today and was like, in eight months, all things in common, I will be a doctor. All things in common. That said, I'm beginning to think that dragging my feet might be to my advantage. I have leave to remain in the country until 2014 and I can technically be a student for another year without any problem. I've got good offers for good part-time work in the country. Enough to stay more afloat that I am now, actually. So I might finish my thesis and just sit on it--stay a student keep looking for real work while working part time. If I'm still a student, I can get a student rail card, avoid paying taxes... I won't have my studentship, but if I can work 10 or 20 hours a week teaching? I might be able to bide some time and maybe have another six months to get a job in this country. We'll see. Options--it's good to have options.

Five finger shoes

For all my barefoot running passion, I've put off getting these Vibram Five Finger shoes because I thought they were too expensive and wanted to try them before I sunk £100 or so. As is the case, however, in avoiding getting them, I've spent a tonne of money on other stuff (trying to make huaraches for example) when I should have just bought the bullet and bought a pair on sale. The huaraches are ideal, I guess, because they are open, but that does lead to pebbles and stuff getting up in them. Not great on the Milton Keynes Redways where you have various hazards to contend with. The Vibrams seem like be the best of both worlds.

Anyway, I finally got a pair in a funky colour on sale (with my remaining Christmas money) for £50. Not bad. I'm really, really, really looking forward to trying them, though and solve my injury problems once and for all. I will probably still run in my other shoes about half the time, but we'll see how these are. I hear that they can chafe, but I've got the bodyglide so that shouldn't be too much of an issue. Review forthcoming.