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.