23 March 2014


Walking up to the park, last Saturday, we came through the cemetery that surrounds the church at St Peter's on the hill, a beautiful old building with bells that chime wildly on Sunday afternoon, as if to drive something out. In the cemetery, the children ask about different things, about death and Jesus and angels and we, Yoko and I, talked to them about what we wanted when we died. In Japan, if we were Japanese, we would have a family tomb. Yoko's family does, and we could, I suppose, claim our space there. Yoko told the girls about the responsibility of grave-keeping in Japan — the need to clean it and look after it. Much better was daddy's plan, to be cremated and thrown out into the ocean from a Japanese beach. The girls didn't think much of it, laughing and running ahead, not bothered by anything.

That beach: when I was in Fukuoka, I finally got a map and bicycle and realised the ocean was not far from our apartment. I would, on days off, pack my Bible and something to eat and head out to a beach that no one swam at. I would sit against the break wall and try to read the Bible or pray for longer than a couple of minutes, always frustrated with my inability to focus, to really connect in the way that I needed to, the way that the other men in my life seemed to. Instead, I would study Japanese word cards that I had made and walk up and down the beach alone.

The metaphor is so obvious, insufferably obvious. 


I heard Mia crying and came upstairs to find her standing with her head in her hands leaned up against the wall of the hallway. I picked her up and carried her back to the bedroom in the front of the house. She pressed her face against my shoulder the way children do when they want to sleep, and I looked out onto Victoria Rd, the cars coming and going.

I feel at times that things are all held together by a bit of fraying string, and then other times that we have established everything we need to coast into the next 40 years without a second thought, our savings growing slowly at 1.25% APR. Yoko writes, looking at the picture of all of our bags, 'またやるかな~、これ。' and I think the same thing. Will we do this again. It applies to everything: the circuitry of marriage and life; the same things repeating again and again. If the string doesn't break perhaps.

17 March 2014


I've been trying to put my finger on the difficulty of writing this year. I sit down again and again and keep failing — trying to avoid writing about writing, or writing about the inability to write. But I can't seem to do it. So here, I'll just write something. Tell you how things are. When you don't write, you write the same thing over and over and the same story can go from happy to depressed. Give any story enough time and it will change.

On Friday, I walked around the University of Birmingham in the sun, feeling like I needed to enjoy this spring twice over. The smell of the flowers, as I run up the hill to the Newman campus, is a memory and then another memory: first, of every spring in Milton Keynes for four years and running up and down the old railroad path towards Newport Pagnell. And then, a memory of the trees blooming on the Shinano River in Niigata City, nine years away now.

Stephen at the ocean

Or ten years ago, a selfie in Fukuoka before there were selfies, where the digital trail drops off and all the other memories, the ones older than that, are stuck inside of me, or in photographs somewhere in my parents' basement. Or dispersed in the basements of parents all over the Midwest. The very edge of recovery.

How do you reorient yourself. This missing plane: they talk about invisible GPS points in the sky that work as markers. You go straight until you reach one, and then you turn, all the time arbitrary and precise. Of course, you need training to recognise them, the places you should turn.

We all have to wade through the collective insufferability of a generation with its past perfectly preserved — in digital artefacts that we can all recall immediately — struggling with getting older, while all the while too cynical to actually do anything, to tell any real truth. Here, look at this. Look at how much older we all are now. There are so many pictures of it.

10 March 2014


This weekend, I uploaded all of Naomi's photos from the last year (from the camera I bought her, which Yoko insists on telling people was the cheapest camera in the shop) in hopes to use the flash disk for another project. As I skimmed through them, the whole last year through her eyes unfolded. The terrace house in Taman Sri Minang. The month away in Japan that I feared would stretch into a year or lifetime. All of the pictures are honest in a way that the pictures that I take are not — they have an accidental quality to them. They don't have any shame or pretence to them — a photo of Mia sitting naked at the gate of the house in Malaysia, blurry and unplanned, haunting in a way.


The window is open here at the office, to let the air in and the sound of the birds. I keep trying to reach back to Malaysia, to the last year, and remember something about the heat and I can't. Sunday, the weather was beautiful and I slept on the sofa in the sun for hours while the girls watched Japanese TV. The night before, we had been at a party and I had drunk Mexican beer while the children ran around upstairs, so the day felt sedated and slow, the way Sundays are for sinners who have nothing to do, nowhere to check in. When it got later in the afternoon, we all walked up to the park, past Vicarage Rd and the church surrounded my headstones that are split or splitting. We all talked about dying and being dead, looking at the names and dates. We went to the park and everyone played, and then we sat in a coffee shop on the high street, the doors open because it was warm, and talked about nothing in particular. We walked home, had pasta, the children bathed, and we all went to sleep, a kind of perfect performance of the middle class life.