26 March 2012


There are only a few months left in this project. Even if I end up doubling the time it takes, I will be done by the end of the year. I'm just frustrated with the lack of convergence at this point and the feeling that I am the only one who wants this end. The project can't go on indefinitely, and I need help finishing it, not trying new things, not adding another analytic framework. I just want to be done. I know that, given the freedom, I could just finish it. But this can't be submitted until my supervisor signs off.

More work to be done.

I woke up late today thanks to forgetting to change the time on my phone to British Summer Time. I needed to run and run fast, which I did, but had to stop about 1.5 miles short to use the toilet, something that has been a recurring theme since I completely lost control of my eating. This has happened to me several times in my exercise/dieting career, where I become absolutely ravenous and will eat everything and anything around me. It's not great—not only do I not feel full, but I am depressed about my lack of control and I can't run as fast as I want to. I feel bloated, not empty, and I have to start again. Something needs to change so that I stop this cycle, but I'm not sure what it is.

The good news is that the 3.3 miles I did run were very fast, and running fast short distances is good news for me, because I usually run my fastest when I am 60%-80% finished with a run. That is, the first miles are never the fastest, so if I can run 3 miles at 7:18min/miles, I can keep that up for another 3 or 4 without much trouble. So that's good. I just have to get control of my weight. I want to run at 75 kgs, and I was 79 this Sunday. Up about 2–3 kgs on my low this year. 

Anybody have any good news? Oh yeah, Mia smiling at me. 

23 March 2012

Do you speak Japanese?

When people ask me if I can speak Japanese, or how my Japanese is, I never know how to answer. I usually say something like, Well, my wife and I only speak in Japanese, so it's okay. It's okay.

The truth is that I can speak Japanese, but I'm not brilliant. I'm not bilingual, I'm not fluent in Japanese. I can speak Japanese, and that's enough.

So this week I am doing something I don't think I'm qualified to do: interpretation. I have a friend from Niigata who is here in the UK at the University of East Anglia with some nursing students and she asked me to do some interpretation for them. I agreed, but sort of on the condition that it was more in a sense of aiding their understanding of things rather than interpreting lectures or doing anything too official. After all, I've said, I only really just speak Japanese with my wife and kids: I haven't had any real training.

People who don't know much about language think that translation and interpretation is simply matching words in two languages and serving as a kind of walking dictionary. It's not that at all. Interpreters have to:
  1. Listen to what a (usual very nervous) person says
  2. Deduce the key meaning of the utterance past all the ums and ahs and false starts
  3. Consider the cultural assumptions and knowledge that go into that utterance
  4. Match key words in the target and source languages
  5. Consider the cultural assumptions and knowledge of the hearer
  6. Produce a sentence in the target language that conveys meaning on both the semantic and pragmatic level.
So you are constantly standing between two cultures and you have to be well aware of what everyone is bringing to the game. Add to that specialised terminology (like medical terminology) and the whole thing can be a very, very difficult endeavour. Example: standing in a surgical supply closet holding something called a 'rectal gun' and trying to explain what it's for without the word 'colon', which I, of course, don't know in Japanese (or didn't know, until yesterday). I've also found it difficult to not get involved myself, to join the conversation and be a part of the interaction. Luckily, given the people involved, I've been able to do that a bit. It's been about 70% interpretation, 20% teaching, and 10% logistics. 

But you know that scene in Lost in Translation where the director is telling Bill Murray's character what to do and he's got this big speech that the interpreter boils down to, 'Sit here and look at the camera'? It's sort of like that. People talk a lot but don't say much. When I get into a groove and a conversation is flowing well, I feel like I am able to get the nuance of a statement much better than a really choppy, truncated interaction. Sometimes are better than others.

I  had plans to work during the day and write at night--work on my thesis, the funding bid, mark student coursework... That hasn't happened. I've been exhausted and all I've wanted to do is eat and eat. I ran on Wednesday morning, but Thursday and Friday are off days... Back to running tomorrow morning at 5AM, thank god. 

(I got home yesterday though and there was a note that I had been invited to this seminar in June at NYU, with all expenses paid. I will turn thirty in New York, doing what I love, talking about the bid at Lancaster. Washington Square. NYU in June. What a gift.)

I've done my best with the Japanese and everyone seems happy enough with the work I've done, but who knows if it's been good enough or not. One of the teachers was taking video and I was like, god, I hope this doesn't get out. I hear myself repeating the same bad Japanese grammar, saying again and again, そういう感じですね. Ugh. Stop saying that.  The Vice-Chancellor of the University was talking with the students yesterday and I was translating his questions and the students' answers. The Head of Japanese Studies (a British guy) was there as well, and afterwards he said that I had done a good job, something I took more pride in then I probably should have. Whenever Japanese people praise my Japanese, I appreciate it, but I also know that they would probably not tell me if I sucked. So it's hard to tell. I ask the students, Do you understand? and they nod aggressively, but I've learned to tell sincere and insincere nodding. 

I also now know the words for nursing practice, aesthetic(local and complete), surgical theatre orthopaedic, midwife... It goes on and on.

I suppose I can speak Japanese. Enough to have a successful relationship with my wife and also do paid translation work. That's not bad.

20 March 2012

The Audacity of Hope

The long job hunting slog is returning back to familiar grounds, the idea I originally hatched in September of 2010, blogged about here. My idea, at the time, was to make a bid with the ESRC for a postdoc to continue my research, something that eventually morphed into this, a bid for funding at Lancaster University with some famous scholars and good people. I've had, over the last year or so, different levels of optimism about this bid, really hitting rock bottom when we missed our first two deadlines. But it looks like the wheels are turning now and the momentum is finally towards the bid getting done... This means that I will know either in August or November if we've been successful, and I will be able to start work on the project sometime between October and January. Not ideal: I would like it to be absolutely certain that I could start in October, but that doesn't look likely at this point. I must be patient, or so the LORD says.

Of course, none of this is guaranteed and the acceptance rates are still quite low for these bids. Luckily, the Lancaster folks are incredibly talented at this and the proposal, at least to my weak, young eyes, looks impressive. Once we get it in, I can stop worrying about it, get on with everything else I have hanging over me (thesis!). The sad truth is that my attempts to get work before completing my viva are unlikely to be successful anyway, so I will hopefully know about the ESRC bid before I really have to start looking for work. Unless, of course, something falls in my lap which, although unlikely, is still possible.

This route of postdoc at a famous university with famous scholars, although not sexy in the short term, begins the process of my full academic career in the social sciences side of applied linguistics. Teaching English will fall away in this scenario, replaced with a much more interesting career of trying to figure out how anyone manages to mean anything when they talk. This life will be filled with tweed jackets and jeans and conferences on things like impoliteness strategies, not grey suits and drinking parties and prolonged committee meetings. That is, it doesn't lead to Japan: it leads deeper and deeper into the UK higher education system, with permanent residency for me and Yoko, and citizenship for the girls. It means four years will become 6 and then 8 and then 10...

Am I happy about this? I am. Not as much as I should be. It's what I want in terms of my career and the life I want for my family. It's the realisation of a dream, a rather old dream that started when I was 19... But I'm petty and silly: I don't want to have to wait three months without pay. I don't want to slog around for another 18 months in a non-permanent post. I want all the benefit without any of the work. Luckily, this part of me is not the real part of me. The real me will do this if given the chance and do it well, slowly building a career for myself in Russell Group universities in the UK. I will become that guy in the department: the American who's not really American.

In my mind? I'll always be thinking about the other side of the fence.

Thoughts of the future (thoughts of anything, really) dovetail nicely with my account of running. When you stop running for a time and then start again, you have all the frustration of slower times, heavy bodies, and not wanting to run when the alarm goes off at 4:30. You have to tell yourself, your body, to just do it, to stop thinking and go, go, go. Luckily, today, the alarm went off and I was up and out the door before 5. I had eaten too much—this is a recurring problem—but otherwise, I felt okay. I was slow and thought of stopping in the first twenty minutes (another bad sign), but eventually my body took over and was humming in the way it does when you hit your stride and forget about not wanting to run. Stack miles on miles. I will get up to 20 miles (15 this week, 17 next, 20 the week after next) and then start to taper back down for the race.

The race is looming on the horizon: I'm anxious for it and regretting signing up at the same time. Running for me is private, something I do alone in the dark before everyone wakes up. How can I run at 10AM with 5,000 other people who are running for charity? Don't they realise it's about collapsing into yourself, about the darkness of the human soul?! Please, stop the goddamned cow bells and think about your impending death!

Perhaps marathons are not for me...

I have to leave for Norwich in about 6 hours to interpret for some Japanese folks as they travel around. I see it not as an opportunity to get rich quick, but a chance to clear my mind and come back on Saturday with a renewed sense of focus. That's the goal at least. March is almost done: April, then May, then June, then July. Four months to get this thing together. We'll see if I can. I'm cautiously optimistic. Hopeful, even.

But for now, the thesis calls.

18 March 2012

British Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day in England.
I have no desire to do anything but eat. I don't know what's going on with my body. It's been two weeks of this, starting when I got sick. I can't stop. At least I'm running again. That's something.

I'm going to Norwich from Wednesday to Friday to help some Japanese scholars from Yoko's old university. I need to keep writing. I will keep writing.

12 March 2012


I received the forms from the secretary in my department for my submission of my thesis. I have been saying that I will submit on August first. I have said it on official enough documents that both I and my supervisors have signed that now, the wheels begin to roll and I... submit. On August first. Am I still far away from the ending. Yes—yes, I am. But not that far. The sentences that come out now are much crisper and thesis ready. The analysis is streamlined. I just need to keep on pressing forward, paragraph by paragraph. I am well through my first (and key) analysis chapter. I have two thousand words (good words) in each of the other two analysis chapters. The methods section is done subject to supervisors' comments. Data description chapter too. The Literature Review needs to be about 2,000 words shorter, but with a different orientation. The first chapter is more-or-less done. The final chapter is also drafted. So, August first. Go. Go now.


05 March 2012

New business card

Weekend of body/soul

Andrew Breitbart, you may have heard, died gasping on the asphalt in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago. Anyone who knows about Breitbart's work knows that this is the sort of death you would expect he might experience. I saw this video of him immediately after he died and was surprised he made it this far. Like Christopher Hitchens dying of throat cancer. Of course he died of throat cancer: it was not tragedy or destiny or unfairness. It was the empirical result of a life lived. A one-to-one correlation that screams causation.

Breitbart dying of a heart attack is to be expected. It's sad and unfortunate and terrible for his family, yes. It shouldn't be celebrated. If you celebrate it then you give into the thing about Breitbart that we all opposed so much, the notion we are all cultural warriors and our opponents as targets to be elminated. If you celebrate Breitbart's death, you accept his conception of the world, of cultural 'war' and of winning. No, I rejected Breitbart in life, I reject him in death.

Breitbart's death, the event of it, however, has captivated me, particularly thoughts of that moment from when he collapsed until the oxygen was gone from his brain and he stopped. What did he think? Perhaps he thought nothing, perhaps he was too terrified to think or reflect. But if he did, if he had a moment to think, did he realise: I've killed myself with rage.

Ruminations on death, an old, steady theme for me. I was running on Saturday morning.  It was 6:30 and I had been on the road for more than two hours. I was making the best time I had ever made on a long run, and my legs were starting to hurt, but in the sort of way muscles feel when they tear, not when you are developing an injury. I took a drink of water, my first drink of the run, and pressed on two more miles than I had planned. 20.05 miles in 2:38:13. When I got home and stood in my entry way at the bottom of the stairs, I listened to hear if the kids and Yoko were awake. My body hummed — the perfect metaphor. I pealed off layers of clothes and stretched on the kitchen floor, boiling water for coffee.

My heart beats much, much more slowly and with much less pressure than Breitbart's did. When I stand in at my computer in the quiet of the night before I go to sleep, I sometimes count the beats out of interest. My heart doesn't want or need to beat more.

Our car was 'broken into' last week. Yoko asked me if we had a word in English for what had actually happened — the door had been left open and someone rummaged through... well, nothing, as we have nothing of value in the car, Not even the ashtray or fuse tray, dumbass, but good that you looked. The 26p from the cup holder is gone, Yoko said — No, no, I said: I used that last Saturday. It was frustrating — Yoko had to call the police because I was in London all day to teach and because the door was left open, the car battery was dead. We don't have jumper leads and the neighbours didn't and, and, and... One of these dumb everyday stories that ends with, everything is fine, of course. But it was annoying.

(Funny, as I wrote this, I stopped at the sentence, Because I was in London all day. I have a part-time job that takes me to London once a week during the term. This is still a surprise to me.)

I told my dad about the car and he was much more angry than me, saying that it wasn't our fault for leaving the door open, people shouldn't break into other people's cars and going on about... well, I'm not sure in the end. It's the way things are in this part of the Milton Keynes — very petty crime some of the time. Sure, I would rather live in a society where this didn't happen, I wanted to say, but what I learned when we were broken into a couple of years ago was that these things, evil befalling you in the world, is unavoidable, doors locked or not. And, worse yet, the things that are likely to kill you, like Breitbart and Hitchens, are much, much more likely to be the things that you do to yourself, illness stemming from your lifestyle. Or, worse in terms of control, an accident or your genetics. You can build a big enough wall to keep the criminals out of your house perhaps, but when you are eating Oreos by the package behind that same wall, you are much more likely to die like Breitbart. Safe and angry.

I want so badly to cultivate a life for me and my family that is unsafe and peaceful. I want my girls to treat unfortunate things  the so-called tragedies of life  like they are: the consequences of living. Every day, no matter what you do, you are one day closer to death. It could be in seventy years, it could be this afternoon. The phone is always waiting to ring.

I want my girls to have quiet slow beating hearts, to look at the world through realistic, stoic, but still wonder-filled eyes. I want them to lock their doors, but never feel that a broken lock is a sign that the world is a bad place, or getting worse, or a threat to be avoided. I want them to stand up when they get knocked down; to be more careful, but not more cautious.

Naomi, Mei, Mia: listen to your father carefully. The world is what it is. You should try with all your might to change what you can for the better. But always, always, always realise that you are a speck, on a speck, on a speck, on a grain of sand surrounded by a vast, impenetrable universe. And if you let worry or anger or fear consume you, you will die a sad death. You have little control over when or how you will die, but you can choose to celebrate without reservation the amazing series of events that brought you to this moment, whatever moment you find yourself in.

I am, I told Yoko, ready to die. Not in a morbid or prophetic way. Not with a sense of impeding doom. I can think of numerous moments in my life that I would not like to die, after being cross with Mei in the bathtub when she doesn't want to wash her hair and I snap at her. But if my body were to stop suddenly, I will relish that last thirty seconds of oxygen, thinking back on all the mornings I have had, woken up surrounded by beautiful women in a beautiful world. About the stillness of a foggy Saturday morning in Milton Keynes, the sun just starting to come up behind me as I take step after steady step forward into the fading darkness.

01 March 2012

Life changer

We [the UKBA] will introduce new provisions under Tier 2 (General) for graduates who would previously have been eligible under Tier 1(Post Study Work). Tier 2 (General) will be open to recent graduates with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, PhD, or a PGCE or PGDE, from a UK recognised or listed body. As per the normal Tier 2 requirements, applicants must have an offer of a skilled job from a licensed sponsor and be paid at least £20,000 or the minimum appropriate rate set out in the relevant Code of Practice. However, the employer will not have to complete a resident labour market test and the jobs will not be subject to the annual limit on Tier 2 numbers (i.e. the Certificates of Sponsorship will be in the Unrestricted category).
With one sentence, the UK Border Agency may have changed my family's life forever, opening up again my initial hope to stay in the UK as a researcher or lecturer. How? Until now, to get a working visa, you had to prove that you were the only qualified candidate in the EU/EEA for the job. Now, you don't have to, if you have a degree from a British University. You can work anywhere that can sponsor a visa, basically any university, and prove that you are the best candidate, not the only candidate.

What does this change for me? I still don't have a job from October, but it does mean that the path that people usually follow after a PhD (getting a research or teaching in the UK the 3–6 months after completion) is now a possibility, and I will not have to leave the country to be employed. Most of my professional contacts are in this country so I am much better positioned here to find something that I am uniquely qualified to do and will enjoy. It means that, for at least the next 9–12 months, I can think about my best option, not my only option. It means the chance of me working on the bid I am working on at Lancaster goes up exponentially because I will potentially have something fall back on if it doesn't work out. It means that the chances of staying in the UK in the short to medium term went from almost 0% to very, very likely. It takes a huge amount of pressure off of me. We don't have to move. I don't have to take whatever post is open to me in October.

Staying in the UK, at least for now, is the easiest thing for us. No uprooting the kids. All of my connections are here for now. We have all of our stuff here. Of course, the best job and no gap in funding are still key. But this does make my future plans much, much easier to navigate. I feel much less backed into a corner.

Now to find my dream job. Here, there, anywhere.

UPDATE: To be clear, although this is very good news for me, it's, for most people, not great news. I mean, better than there being no route to employment, but certainly much more restricted than before when you could apply to stay in the country for two years after your degree to work without any restriction. Compared to what I thought it was going to be, this is good news, but it is still very, very bad news for most of my colleagues.