30 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 30

On March 11, 2011, I was in this same Starbucks, as the pictures of the tsunami came onto my computer. Today, there is no tragedy: I am on my way to Norwich to give a talk about second-person address on YouTube. This week, I have felt the pangs of being overwhelmed for the first time this year, like there is so much to get done. I haven't looked at the book proposal in weeks. I'm writing three different things to get money for different projects I want to do. There's going to be marking to do here quickly. And visitors: my parents, some scholars from the Czech Republic. Need to go and go and go, but I'd like to stop here, in London and remember how good this all is. There's a train to catch.

29 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 29

Got up for the second to last time to go to the gym in Harborne. It's been more than three months now, but the membership is up and there's no reason to stay on. This week, the girls have had their half term so I have been going straight on from the gym to work, not stopping at home. I stuff everything in the locker and workout without any of the purpose and drive I had in August: it doesn't really matter now if I lose any more weight or not, although I feel silly if I don't work hard. I got up, didn't I? What's the point of coming if you don't go hard. Today, I left satisfied with how much I had sweat — a silly indication that I had done enough, whatever enough is any way. I pack up, put everything into my bag and head off into the morning, which is brighter now that summer time has ended. One more day and then I move on to Newman's gym.

28 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 28

Obsession and counting is not always a bad thing. Obsession is like anger: you have to be careful with it. Obsession leads to success if you handle it right and you hide it. You need to hide your obsessions because they make people uncomfortable. People want to think that everything comes naturally, that you don't have to count. You do. You do have to count. You have to count kilocalories and miles and reps and minutes and words and expenditures. If you're a good counter, you can do whatever you want. If you don't count, if you relax and do what comes naturally, the rut pulls you in naturally. So you go back to counting. Start counting until the wrong numbers go down and the right ones go up. Until you your goal is not a goal any more, but the next thing you're trying to leave behind.

27 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 27

St Peters church sits at the top of Vicarage Rd, with the cemetery surrounding it and Mei's little school tucked behind it. If you go towards the city, you walk past the cricket grounds, and then the Catholic church, if you cross Harborne Park Road. On Sunday morning, Yoko and I and the kids finally went to the service there, squeezed into the very narrow back pew, the Pihlaja family stacked on top of each other and warm. We fumbled with the hymnals and order of service, the Bible and these books in the middle that I had never seen. The Prayer of Manasses, like something from the Book of Mormon. The organ was deep and powerful in the last stanza of the hymns (in books, numbers on the wall, not powerpoint slides), the bells above us, and halfway through Yoko and Mia and Mei went to the nursery room. I sat, the way you can in a church that doesn't demand anything of you. I sat and listened and silently disagreed and agreed, without any of it mattering, or a peppy young person bothering you during the greeting in the middle of the service. Just a line of old men in grey suits asking if I was American and then if I was Episcopalian. Perhaps I should have been, I wanted to say, you have the right aesthetics: the man in the robes, the women and men in the robes, the candles, and the organ again.

26 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 26

Having been moved into the front room of the house, with the bay windows, to do my work, the last piece of the puzzle was getting the fireplace running. I pulled newspapers that someone had stuffed up into the chimney to stop the draft and when I pulled the last bit out, the corpse of a pigeon tumbled down. I cleaned the whole thing, got all the dust and dirt out and now, the fire is blazing, So much can change in a year, I think, standing and writing on Victoria Road, in Harborne. There is never any end to the possibilities.

25 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 25

Names tell histories. In Harborne, there is a Station Road, but no station. You have to read the history of Harborne Walkway, the old railroad line, and look at the GPS coordinates to see where it was. Then it all makes sense. There was another station on Hagley Road, right after the tunnel that I am afraid to run through in the dark. That building is still there, I think. When I ran the walkway this morning before sunrise, I tried to think about history and not be afraid. There is nothing to be afraid of, but I am afraid of the nothing, the dark, the empty path. How does one overcome their fear of god and retain a fear of ghosts. I confront it when I can, and when I run into it, the fear dissipates with each step until my phone announces that I have now run six miles and tells me my slow pace in a voice that sounds friendly to me. Do not be afraid — how can you lose your fear of god, but not his word.  Given enough time, enough steps into the dark, your eyes adjust. The night is not dark anymore, or even the night, but the bright edges of a Seiji Fujishiro lightbox.

24 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 24

How do you prepare your children for a world in decline, for a future that can't be as economically prosperous as this one: the energy and capital (literally and metonymically and metaphorically) is simply not there. I worry about the values that emerge as white (mixed) children of privilege in Harborne, what they are learning about property and capital from me and the world around them. Of course, if the right values emerge, their futures will take care of themselves. Yoko is an excellent teacher and giver of the best thing they have going for them, should the world fall apart: the Japanese mountains. You — the Japanese 'you' which encompasses the mixed-race expat American-Japanese English resident who conceives of themselves as Japanese —  could go high into the mountains of Tosa, where the water comes down into the valley, and make enough food there to support yourself and family. You have been doing it for centuries; you will be doing it centuries from now. You won't need guns and baked beans because the society is already interdependent and communal. You can cast off that American, Western independent identity and only confront it when you look in the mirror. You can sit up high, above it all, grow old and come down to ruins of the city every now and again, to see if the world has sorted itself yet.

23 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 23

When I bought my Saddleback bag in 2011, I didn't plan to ever buy another bag, but now I run and I need a bag to run. These artefacts of day to day life, jersey and backpack, slung in the corner to be picked up and used again and again and again. I wear this bag all the time: I can pack it in a minute, I know it so well now. I can take off my sweatshirt while wearing the bag and running, tie the sweatshirt around my waist without stopping — it's a science: structured, constructed, mobile space that is here and mine, wherever here is. When you have a good bag, you can go in a minute if need be. Just throw what you have in it, the laptop and change of clothes and you're gone. A bit of freedom, the omnipresent here.

22 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 22

It's been a while since I made a mixtape or a playlist. I used to: if you look back on this blog somewhere, you can find evidence of it. Last night, I tried again: what would a 32 year-old mixtape sound like. Millenial and navel-gazing, I suspected. I carefully chose all the most interesting music I could think of, insufferably avoiding anything that might look like I was who I actually am, a man who bought John Mayer's album when it was on sale. I thought about adding Bitch, Don't Kill my Vibe sarcastically, but I chickened out. What is the truth anyway.

21 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 21

Newman University has worked out. When I left Malaysia last year, I was terrified that I had made a mistake again, gambled again on an unknown quantity and taken too many chances with my fragile, newborn career. Newman: nobody really knew anything about it. The first day I drove the hired Vauxhall Corsa there. Every day since then had been good in its own way. I have been saying all year, in a hushed voice, 'Touch wood, it's really been good for me, I really like it here.' And today, I sat through two graduation ceremonies, wearing the suit I was married in and Zara plimsolls I bought at Midvalley Mall in Kuala Lumpur and my Open University PhD gown, which makes me feel Marxist and proud. Knox College, University of Birmingham, the Open University, now Newman University. All institutions I am proud to represent in a small way. Watching the Muslim families cheer their Muslim daughters and sons across the stage, you can see how catholic (with a small 'c') Newman really is, even the Cardinal in his robes and institution: he reached out as a friend passed in the processional line. It's so good to see you. Stories of John Paul the Second eating dinner with friends, talking about poetry. How lovely this whole thing has turned out for me, sitting in the most beautiful space, surrounded by friends. How lucky I was that night in November last year, that the tiny Skype image of me made its way here and guided me home. All warm embraces, these families watching mothers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters graduate. The first ever in our family — no one had dreamed of this before.

20 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 20

I watched that Wes Anderson film about travelling in India last night, after everyone had gone to bed. It was fitting, given the whole day of nostalgia, that Malaysia, southeast Asia, would appear in this waking dream. The film is, of course, all cleaned up, white fantasy about India, a 90 minute stereotype, but shot beautifully and symmetrically. I thought about my own trips on buses, rather than trains, in Thailand and Malaysia. I felt that draw towards the adventure of it all again and some other life in another iteration of the multiverse, where I just travelled into my thirties and didn't make any commitments. Somewhere, my time in Asia isn't done...

19 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 19

I spent part of Thursday talking about the States. It's been 11 years this week that I've been abroad. 19 October we landed one day late in Japan. For three months, I was homesick: I dreamt of going back, having the final year of college that I had missed. Every Thursday night, all my friends on that side of the world were listening to jazz at the Cherry St pub, and I was looking out over the north suburbs of Fukuoka. It didn't stop until February. Eleven years on, whoever I was in Galesburg in 2003 is gone entirely, but the feeling that I am not where I should be comes back now and again. I deal with it in different ways. I look at impossible Christmas flights from BHX to ORD. I put on my Twins cap, browse the American candy kiosk at the mall, and now, think of Japan too, Imazu Bay where I took pictures and slowly turned over the past in my mind.

18 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 18

This morning's run took me through a forest, up out of Harborne to the north and into the dark because the sun is not up until later. I ran confidentially despite being able to see the pavement below me. I ran through the tunnel under Hagley Rd without being able to see anything but a small light on the other side. I ran through puddles and mud without stopping or thinking, the sun just on the edge and the moon hidden behind the clouds. I ran all the way to Dudley Rd, almost the city centre, through Summerfield Park lined with the old Edgbaston houses, all that history and the huge trees. If you cross the road there, you will get to the canals, but I didn't know that. I stopped, as I have been now at the middle of a run, the simple out and backs, to catch my breath, look around, and be a thankful that — despite all the problems I can't solve and the relationships I keep spinning like plates waiting to fall — I have another day, another morning.

17 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 17

Some days, you run from something: you can't help it. Some days, you run to find the void, like Murakami says. Some days, you run just because you can. And some days, if you're lucky, you can get up before the sunrise and head out into the midst. Run past the gates and stables and church, run out on the country lane, where there are no cars yet, where the horizon is just starting to show. Run when you can't see the pavement, but you know it's there. Run fast or run slow, it doesn't matter. Run until you can't run any further on that road and turn back.

16 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 16

Now, I'm going to Staffordshire, to stay with the second year students as they write, and maybe do some writing myself. If I'm lucky. If the gods smile on me.

15 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 15

I have bouts of insomnia and fastidiousness — put together, I am up at 5 in the morning polishing my shoes. I had worn them on Monday and they were soaked. I dried them out with newspaper and then put them on the radiator. And then this morning I polished them for fifteen minutes, while I waited for the gym to open. The insomnia, I realise, is just a reaction to the responsibilities of adulthood. Your wife and children don't ask for anything from you when they're sleeping, so you are free to do what you want. Polish shoes, build a dataset, work out. Write, or do nothing. The less you sleep, the more time you have for yourself, to be quiet and enjoy the things you enjoy, without having to answer for them.

14 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 14

When I came back to the UK in the winter, I needed a jacket, so we went to TK Maxx in Milton Keynes, and I got a grey jacket that fit perfectly: £30. I wore it to all the functions I needed to as a new member of staff and brought it around to presentations and dinners. It was a 42R, and over the last three months, it's become too big to wear, the shoulders drooping off me pathetically. We went to the charity shops on the High St this weekend and I hurriedly replaced the grey jacket with two others, which fit much better at the shoulders. Sharper and cleaner lines: two for £8. The other jacket is lost now, until I get fat again, sometime in the future. 

13 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 13

The rain keeps coming down. I got caught it in four times today, but I dried myself off and kept going. When it rained in Malaysia, you needed to stop and wait. Here, you soldier on. How bad is it really.

12 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 12

The weekends are packed in: gymnastics, then to the High St for shopping and coffee, then out cycling, then swimming the next day, and hiking in Pinfields Wood, and shopping. We ate frozen pizza tonight as a kind of reward and I drank some real ale. There are gargoyles on St Peters church in Harborne: of course, you have to look up to see them, but I did look up and notice them this weekend.

11 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 11

This morning, I wanted to run, but I didn't want to know how long or how fast or how far I'd run. I just wanted to get up and go. I ran out into Edgbaston and up towards the city, the safe direction from Harborne, at least as I imagine it. At 6AM on a Saturday morning, you can run in the streets for the most part. Everything is open. You only meet people waiting for buses, or other runners, or a group of Chinese university students walking home. Of course, if you run enough, you know how long and how far and how fast you ran, even if you don't measure it. I got home, feeling light and pulled off my shirt in the garden, the steam rising off my body, the moon setting, Birmingham waking up. 

10 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 10

I'm working from home today. I woke up to the alarm, a shock. I went to work out and then walked the kids to school in the electric air and blue sky. Yesterday, for the first time, I put on my old jeans, the ones that I had worn when I was thin and they fit perfectly again. I felt again like I can come home in another way: my clothes fit. It's cold enough now to pull out my long grey coat with the waist taken in. Silly things to think about, I know.

09 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 9

It's raining again. It's been raining all week, and I've said and will say again, It's time to hibernate and wake up in March. This is not a bad feeling, particularly given my insomnia. Wanting to sleep is better than not wanting to sleep. Everything else feels like it's being held at a distance from me; I'm paranoid. I woke up at 4 again, after going to sleep at 8 and getting up at 10 and then 1 and then 2. I'll just stop trying. Keep pushing ahead with my plans. Stop exercising everyday after this month. Try to get some sleep.

08 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 8

I can't take a photo of insomnia. I wander around the house alone, doing small chores, tidying up the living room. This morning, I cleaned out all the waste bins in the house and put the rubbish out around 5:30. I had been up for two hours. The moon was full and bright, but on the other side of the sky, setting like the sun. I had seen it rise the night before, as I drove to Derbyshire to pick up a standing desk I had bought. Sure, I could try to sleep, but why sleep if you don't want or need to. There are worse crosses to bear than the stillness of a night about to end.

07 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 7

Today felt like the morning after the snow melts. It was brisk and wet, walking up to school with the girls. I kissed and hugged them goodbye and ran to Newman. By the time I got to campus, the sun had broken through and everything was fresh and golden.

06 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 6

Any day in London is a good day, even if it's rainy and cold. I rode the Boris Bike from Euston to Kensington and then back up to Senate House and then back to Kensington and then back to Euston. I rode through Hyde Park less hurried this time, compared to last, because I know where to turn and not turn. So there it was, that moment I had wanted forever, browsing books at Senate House and feeling like this was it.

05 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 5

Today, we went home to the house on Booker Ave. Everything about it is the same, more-or-less. I sat there thinking about how much of our lives had passed there. Everything is so clean and open, compared to the house on Victoria Rd. The sun comes in through the conservatory and the garden stretches out in the back. Of course, after it's gone, you can recognise how good it was.

04 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 4

At work on a rainy, cold, Birmingham October day. I ran in and my legs felt much better than they have all week. Who knows how long this runner's high will last, but it keeps going. Nothing seems to deter it. There is no such thing as bad weather for a runner, right? You need to bring water when it's hot and made more layers when it's cold. A raincoat if it's raining, but there is no bad weather, only different weather.

03 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 3

This is the autumn I waited a year and half for, and now it is ending. It could snow any day now: don't lie to yourself. The statue of John Henry Newman in the middle of campus looks over the changing of seasons and although I am not Catholic, I am happy to be catholic, from the Greek words kata and holos, Google tells me just now: in respect of + whole. All-encompassing. All-embracing. I'll take that over small 'c' capitalism, I like to tell people. I have a rosary my brother-in-law gave to me and that I used to pray: I skirt on the edges.

02 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 2

You run down into the valley from Woodhouse Primary and then up towards Bartley Green where the university is. Running down the hill in the morning is easy, running up the hill in the afternoon, on the way to pick up the kids is easy in a different way. I pass some people when I run, sometimes the same people.

01 October 2014

October Vignettes, Day 1

At 4:45, everything is still. I slept almost 6 hours. The gym doesn't open for an hour, so I answer e-mails, make tea, walk back and forth between the front office and the kitchen in the back. It's getting cold enough to need coats now, the ones we've passed down from child to child over the years, and didn't sell when went to Malaysia. I, foolishly, gave mine away, and so think, passing the coats: given enough time, you need all the things you left behind.