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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gaijin Bubble - Being a good husband - Taking action

himonya sunset _2475

Sunset from our front door

The intense feeling of 'being a foreigner' is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I've been out and about, and completely forgotten that I'm a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I'd regressed to those times when I didn't understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.

It would seem though that after about 4 months I'm becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly 'Japan', they're just 'home'.

I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I'm somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don't like to not be doing something else whilst walking.

I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don't see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I'm the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube - I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this - it's called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).

Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone...

Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.

My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I'm finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.

And it's awareness that's the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this 'fact', the film became even more translucent.

It's all my perception.

I know this. I've always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.



Recently I've been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I'm not sure what brought it on, but it's likely to have been my experience at the office, as that's where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.

I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn't have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases - the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).

Hey, I'm not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That's pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?

Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn't have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.

I'm currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I'm finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I've Mumbled about it before, and I'll say again what I said then: there's nothing in this book that you haven't read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins' books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It's this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or 'lack of Japanese language skills'.




This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it'll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography :-) But still, I found other people's reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme's, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they'd changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).


This got me thinking about how I've grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn't necessarily want to know. I'm fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered 'ok' by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I've not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.

I'm also glad I had a few 'serious' relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.

How horrendous is that?

However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren't quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn't have to put up with all that kind of crap (it's not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).

Anyway, It's taken New Year to make me act on this one. It's only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to 'be nice' when one really doesn't want to be nice isn't actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.

This reminds me of Wayne Dyer's work - he often speaks of high and low energy cycles. (There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is one I often mention - I reccomend the audio from Audible)

Going back to changes seen during 2008, I'm also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don't see last year as having been the real milestone - that's this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I'm far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.

Ironically, by stating these things I'm only making the situation worse. It's time for an end to 'recognising' things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.

OK. so let's make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.

You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I'm greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I've not added to it recently).

I only have one excuse left now.

I haven't got time.

That's a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I've just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.

Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I've taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.

I've also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.

Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that's a distinct possibility.

I'm going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.

Anyway, I'd best be off to bed, I'm doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I'll be doing for backdrops.

tatta.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Our first professional engagement as a couple



The lack of broadband at home has finally driven me out to an Internet cafe. I would just use our iPhone, but it's a bit tedious when it comes to long texts, and also I needed to use Skype ...although now I'm here I find that you're not allowed to talk in this place. Oh well. I could talk via Skype on my iPhone, but need a wifi network for that.

Anyway anyway, with time ticking by I need to be brief. Not only am I paying by the hour for this connection, but also I'm starting two new jobs tomorrow, one of which requires some prep.

The Hanpane Rally 2008 ("Volume 1") was an unforgettable experience for *Twinkle* and I. It had been organised by a group of about twenty people in their twenties looking to promote the idea of young people going into business for themselves - *Twinkle* was the main co-ordinator, reporting back to a couple of people in their 40s who took overall responsibility.

*Twinkle* first mentioned it to me a couple of months back, something about a rally at which we'd be MCing. She sounded pretty relaxed about it so I didn't think much of it.

Fast forward to last night, 6.30pm. We're backstage at Nakano Zero Hall, an audience of over 550 filing into their seats out front. I'm crapping myself as I try and learn my lines (in Japanese) for our introduction, lines that we'd only written a few hours beforehand but not had a chance to even glance at due to frantic last minute prep. Hair cuts, clothes shopping etc. I hadn't quite realised just quite what an undertaking this was until the last minute when reports came in of the number of tickets sold. (I was pretty shocked when we arrived at the hall an hour beforehand -the audience were already queuing outside the front door).

Things got even more stressful when the DVD player that was being used to project our videos onto the big screen crapped out at the last minute, and calls went out for a laptop. Macbook came to the rescue - there followed an intense five-minute crash course in (English) Mac basics for my friend, whilst I simultaneously tried to think what alerts might pop-up on screen during the show (calendar reminders, backup programs etc), and rehearse my lines.

It was all pretty surreal. I made a half-conscious decision that none of it was really happening, as if I really thought about what I was going to be doing I probably wouldn't have been able to talk at all.

But there was that part of me that also knew that everything was going to be absolutely fine.

And it was.

*Twinkle* had written a bloomin' good script. It was very natural, very her, very me. She was the serious MC who knew everything, and I was the comedic husband who feigned ignorance. Despite the fact that we hadn't been able to learn our lines (and thus were overly script-dependent), it (apparently) came across as being pretty natural. The audience seemed to warm to us right from the start, with*Twinkle*s professional delivery of the long narratives, and my insertions of odd bits of English and overly casual Japanese (and multiple mistakes). We got quite a lot of laughs, and a lot of people later remarked on just how well we engaged with the audience.

It's a shame we didn't have a chance to listen to the main speakers - we were too busy backstage learning our lines for the next section.



The two hour set flew by, and before we knew it I was telling everyone to get home safely. ...The relief was immense. We'd done it.

The after party took place just down the line in Koenji, in a mad little Japanese restaurant populated by sailors. Our guest speakers served to further dismantle my old prejudices against millionaires, all being the nicest, most interesting and engaging people you could wish to meet. They were inspirational too, with stories of Scottish adventures, business challenges overcome - and books published from personal blogs.

The thing that struck me most about them was the fact that they were really no different from anyone else I know. I find this very exciting as my family are all waiting for us to become very wealthy. That's one of our goals, not for the sake of being rich and owning 'stuff' or having a high status, but because we want to help as many people as possible, and another way we can do that (apart from giving our time and energy and love to friends, family and others) is to become wealthy, and then distribute that wealth.



It doesn't really matter to us that our MCing was at times pretty unprofessional.It doesn't matter that I stuffed up my lines and pronounced words incorrectly. We learnt so much through the experience - not just about MCing, but about each other. I respected *Twinkle* enormously beforehand, but last night found myself in awe at her ability to deal with it all in such a cool manner, and to be so confident in what she was doing.

But actually, in reality, last night's event wasn't really all that much of a big deal. OK, so it's the largest group of people we've addressed live, ...but they only numbered about 550.

It's what the event taught me about *Twinkle* - by seeing her pull together an event like that - and us about Us as a couple that I find so exciting.

She was bloomin amazing. Co-ordinating so many people, not only on the day but over the past couple of months, and then making sure everyone knew what was going on in the hours leading up to it whilst simultaneously learning her lines. I couldn't have done it. 

And it wasn't just that she did it, but that she did it without getting stressed.

This was our first professional engagement together, and it's shown us that whilst as individuals we are pretty good at what we do, as a couple working together towards a shared goal we have enormous strength. It's also taught me what fun it can be to work with *Twinkle*.

Today we've talked about our marriage quite a bit, about just how much of a blessing it has been.

We've been told that following last night's performance we'll be called upon again for future events like the Hanpane Rally. I find this very exciting as public speaking is something I enjoy a great deal, and any opportunity to further develop the necessary skills is welcome.

Anyway, I must get out of here. I'm over my hourly limit and now paying by the 15-minutes!

Start my full time job in 10 hours - Ganbarimasu!

xxx

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Married Life: Day 9

When in the past I've asked newly-wed friends if marriage changes things, most of them have said 'sort of but not really' or 'no', having been living together before the marriage for an extended period of time.

It's my experience that it changes everything. But then, our marriage occurred in rather unusual circumstances, and so the changes I feel can not necessarily be attributed to the act of marriage itself.

Unlike most couples I know, we married after not seeing one another for 11 months. After we married, one of us moved half way around the world to join the other. We then moved into a new apartment together - not the first time we'd lived together, but the first time we lived in a place that had more than one room (it has two), allowing for us to be a little more expressive without fear of being squashed between walls (i.e. we can hide from one another if need be in the other room, separated by a frosted glass sliding door).

making bread in a wok
twinkle and homemade bread_9486

It's been exciting. Fascinating. A bit scary at times. Everything has been up for discussion.

I found myself feeling moved by *Twinkle*s concern for me, her wanting to hear my take on things, her concern for my feelings, and her willingness to compromise. It's not that she was never willing to listen or compromise before, but I felt that now she was taking it to a whole new level.

I wondered, was this the result of conscious effort on her part, because we were now married?

When I asked her, she said no, she was just being the same old *Twinkle*, but then she said to me, but you're making a special effort, aren't you?

I laughed at that - I was just being me! Then we both laughed. It would seem that if indeed neither of us have changed the way we act towards one another, what's happened is that marriage has either changed the level of appreciation of the other, or it has changed our perception of what is a 'normal' level of care to show towards the other.

There's a strong sense of responsibility that we both have, responsibility to make it work. The wedding left us feeling that a lot of people were investing in us, believing in us, were with us, giving us strength but also helping us appreciate what a big commitment it was that we were making. Now it's time for us to act on that.

I think one of our most important roles is to help the other get through the difficult times. I've been struggling with self-doubt and a sense of insecurity re. my potential work. *Twinkle* has been doing a wonderful job of helping me see the 'reality' of the situation, that is, reinforcing what I know is the case anyway (that I will do very well in my work), and helping me take action to make abstract job prospects into concrete appointments with students.

twinkle_9480

Likewise, *Twinkle* sometimes gets discouraged in her work, and then it's my turn to bring her back to a bright reality, where she is capable and doing the right thing. (It's also my job to make sure she gets out of the house on time in the morning).

The fact that we are now married means that long term plans have become a lot more meaningful. In fact, planning in general. We've spent several hours this week sitting at the kitchen table making our short, medium and long-term plans. It's a fairly long process, and is often hijacked by actions that need to take place now before the planning can proceed further (e.g. contacting the phone company to find out what my new phone contract will really cost on a monthly basis).

There's also a lot of secretary-type stuff to do (I'm definitely the secretary around here). Things like setting up savings plans, sorting out various insurance policies, creating budgets. I had thought that all of this could be done in a single day, but with documents missing and uncertainty as to what current arrangements are it's taking a lot longer. For me, this is all a part of the marriage package.

So to sum up, it's all good. An exciting adventure - can't wait to see where it leads us next!

Anyway, I am now going to attempt to make a loaf of bread in the manner demonstrated by my daringu wifey last night.

TTFN

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Married for the second time in a month

As mentioned on Twitter this morning, *Twinkle* and I got 'married' again today. I was in bed, asleep in the north of England. *Twinkle* was in her local town hall, Japan.

I was happy (I mean even happier)

All she needed was our original wedding certificate, my original birth certificate and copies of my passport. With that, she created a new family register (koseki tohon) in the name of 'Tame'. She also officially changed her name to Tame.

The Japanese certificate will take a week to arrive at our place in Japan, house, then another week to get here. The embassy in London have said that they may be able to process my visa application in a week, so if all goes smoothly I should be flying out in the first week of September.

fingers crossed.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

The night before my wedding

bw_joseph twinkle

It's now ten minutes to midnight on the night before my wedding day. I dropped *Twinkle* back to the cottage we've rented for her parents, where she will spend her last night before she becomes my wife.

It's been an amazing day. Thinking back over the last 16 hours I feel tearful - we have been shown such kindness by so many, and the day itself is yet even to begin! We are so so grateful. Thank you so much to everyone involved.

The village hall looks great - we have hundreds of metres of bunting - handmade by a friend. There are hundreds of origami paper cranes too, made by *Twinkle*s family (it took three of them several hours to fold them all, but they look amazing). In the church we have some beautiful beautiful flower arrangements made by my brother's fiancé and mum, using flowers donated by local gardeners. Paper flowers too, made by *Twinkle*s family and fixed to the walls by *Twinkle*s best friend from Japan, Mariko, who arrived from Barcelona at lunchtime. Our guests from the Netherlands have also arrived safely, as has *Twinkle*s second bridesmaid from Tokyo.

I am staggered by the amount of organisation needed just for a party of about 80 people. My head has been buzzing so much I've found myself feeling pretty out of it for a lot of the day. Kind of like, in a dream world. Floating, watching as my body goes about doing this that and the other. It's not been a bad thing, although I know I've looked pretty dreadful!

But I really can't emphasise enough just how much this wedding is a product of many hours of effort by our family and friends. I am so grateful to be able to hand over huge great chunks of organisation to various volunteers. How can we ever repay them?




Following the rehearsal, *Twinkle* and I decided to spend some time together to just 'be' and share our thoughts and feelings of what the day gone by had meant to us, and our feelings about tomorrow, and our married life beyond that (and to practice our ceremonial kiss!). The venue was our lovely little hire car (I am anti-car in principle but i do like our little blue Chevy which came as a free upgrade from the hire company and sports a string of wedding flags flying from the back!), and the Moon Inn at Garway.

I recently wrote of how marriage is changing things - and again tonight we noted how we could almost reach out and touch the change. It's shifting our feelings for one another to a deeper level. The feeling of trust and commitment is really strong - it's taken me by surprise several times today. (...but I thought I already trusted *Twinkle*, and wasn't I already committed to our relationship?!"). The past week has been a simply perfect 'ramp up' to what will take place tomorrow. The timing could not be better.

The wedding rehearsal was really enjoyable, and natural. It was very relaxed - meaning that it felt appropriate to turn around and put my finger to my lips signalling everyone to be quiet when the priest asked if anyone knew of any lawful impediment to our marriage... tee hee, ;-p We are very fortunate to have Elaine as a priest - she is fantastic, and sets everyone at ease.

If I think of us doing that for real tomorrow surrounded by 80 or so of our closest friends, well, ...wow! Just indescribable! How wonderful to be in that environment, sharing our commitment for one another with all those that mean so much to us.

Well, I guess I'd better get some sleep. It'll be an even longer day tomorrow.

My thanks again to all of those involved in making this happen. In my mind, tomorrow's event will not just be a celebration of the relationship that *Twinkle* and I are committing to, but also a celebration of community, of mutual love and support, of family, of friendship, and of the general wonderfulness of life.

night night.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marriage - from the pre-wedding perspective

twinkle and joseph_9018

The past couple of days have started to see a change in the relationship between myself and *Twinkle*. I think I know why that could be - the Marriage Effect.

It first struck me yesterday when we were driving home to the holiday cottage that we've rented about 500 yards from mum and dad's place. Before now, we've lived together for the best part of two years. I didn't expect marriage to change much in the dynamic between us, but it would seem that it's doing just that.

These past few days we've been pretty independent. My parents have kindly given us use of the family car, which has enabled us to freely go about doing the things we need to do in preparation for the wedding, in addition to do things like go and watch the sunset from a local hilltop. During all of this, we've been talking. Talking about the past, the present, and the future. Talking about what marriage means to us. In fact, we've started creating our own list of additional marriage vows - a bit more definite than the vows we shall swear in church (those being the foundation on which we can build these additional promises).

All of this has led to a subtle shift in our relationship. A strong feeling of commitment is on the rise. Sure, it's been there before, but not like this. This is something far bigger, something that can be relied upon. It's tied up with a deepening sense of trust, and excitement that we're in this long-term, together.

The marriage creates a strong feeling of team work - and independence too. Independence from our immediate families who have supported us in so many ways until now. This will no doubt be strengthened by our setting up a new home in Japan, a long way from my family, and the other side of Tokyo from *Twinkle*s. The combining of our finances too, which has basically already happened, promotes the feeling that whatever we're working on, it's a team effort with a common goal.

It may be a couple of years before we have children, but nethertheless, we will be a family in our own right.

It's a bit surreal to be reaching this point after 30 years of being dependent upon others.

Hmm, so it's feeling like it's quite a big deal really.

It is a shame that *Twinkle* will be returning to Japan just two days after the wedding, but provided she makes it hop, skip and jump to the local ward office in Japan asap I should be able to join her within a few weeks.

Then it all starts for real.

:-)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back in the Alps


As part of my prep for leaving for Japan, I'm going though my box of diaries, which also contains a few DVDs of TV programs featuring me or my friends, and converting them to MP4 format which I can keep on my laptop.

One of them I've not seen for years is the documentary made about my home of two years up in the Swiss Alps, Kleine Scheidegg. It's extraordinary seeing all those familiar faces again. Albert our station master. Tomoko who worked in the buffet. My boss, Andreas, and other colleagues from the hotel.

Andreas

Tomoko. She was very strong. I was a little afraid of her.




These memories will be with me for life. Watching Tomoko go up the stairs of the station building I'm taken aback by my sudden recollection of the smell of the place. It's not that it was particularly smelly, but it did have a distinct scent, a cross between wood, clean toilets and bratwurst sausage. It's amazing how much information I must have stored in my brain, all these little details - like the train conductors shouting "achi achi" (That way that way!") at the Japanese tourists in a Swiss-German accent, or the trains with their electric folding wingmirrors.

Oh! And there's Phil, from South Africa. He worked as a photographer with Benny the dog. Benny would pose with his brandy barrel in the midst of great gangs of Japanese tourists, the must-have Swiss shot to take home to their families.




Having these records of past lives helps me appreciate just how fortunate I've been to have had these experiences. We've all had them of course, but I personally find it difficult to remember events that happened a long time ago unless I have a trigger - such as a photo or film. I don't want to forget, they've all been such an important part of making me who I am today.

I used to take it to extremes. When I was age about 14 I'd always read my diary entry from exactly a year ago. It became a bit obsessive, and I remember worrying that I was becoming stuck in my past.

I like to think I've found a healthy balance now. A balance between appreciation for what has gone before, planning for the future, and focusing upon the here and now.




I visited some friends last night who are helping a great deal with the wedding. I lived with one of them, Frances, for about a year in the very same Hotel Kleine Scheidegg as featured in the documentary above. She became a dear friend to me, and seeing her again after what might even be years without meeting reassured me that we are still close. It was such a meaningful experience to sit and talk with her, and observe how we've both changed since our time in the Alps. People like her make the world a very happy, caring place.

Frances, about to throw a snowball at me

frances_snowballs




The wedding is really starting to take shape now. This evening I spent some time painting elephants on jam jars for the nightlights on the tables. That was very therapeutic, and helped me unwind after yet another day of sorting through belongings and assigning stuff to the recycle or charity shop pile.




I think *Twinkle* and I are going to have to work very hard together, especially over this coming year. We're both capricorn, both very ambitious, both with strong personalities. Of course, we differ in many ways too. For a start, she's much cuter than me.

I hope that I'm far enough along the relationship road to have learnt to not put pride or ego before love. It's going to be a challenging education, being husband to *Twinkle*, but I'll do my absolute best. She's worth every bit of energy I have.

We've been apart for over 4,800 hours. In 40, we'll be together.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm marrying *Twinkle* in 15 days


Ha. Everything but the girl. Nice.

Last week I upgraded my Macbook's hard-drive to the 320GB Toshiba MK3252GSX. At £66 it was a bargain, and being a Macbook the upgrade can be done on the kitchen table in about three minutes.

One result of this is that I can now fit my entire music collection on my laptop - I used to just carry a small selection, whilst my main library was on an external drive that was a bit of a bore to plug in. This week I've been stuck on the playlist "Not played recently", and wow, what a treat it has been. What a wonderful gift music is. Rediscovering all this old stuff that I've not heard in ages. Pink Floyd. Everything But the Girl. Genesis. Beth Orton. Joni Mitchell. Dick Gaughan. Nick Drake.

Another result of the upgrade is that I've rediscovered my video collection which, like my music, had been languishing on an external drive. I was staggered to find that I have 567 home-movies, many of which I haven't seen in years. My favourites were those taken in the first few months of my relationship with *Twinkle* (I haven't shot so many since then). She's so funny, and so cheeky. Watching those really brings it home to me why I love her so much. I wrote a little while back about a difficult patch we were going through then, and how we had 'lost touch with one another's realities."

After 6 months apart, the love I feel for her is not grounded in or dependent upon any physical realm. It's not her cutey looks, her kind words or her personality. It's underground, it's her spirit, her 'soul'. That's been so important, as when there's ripples across the surface, I just look below - the water is calm, rich, full of life.

Thus, watching those videos of her in hysterics due to me looking terrible in a photo that she'd just taken of me (etc) have been a great reminder of just what a joy it is to be with her on a 'superficial' level. She is so lovely to hang out with, and I can hardly believe that I have been so fortunate as to be destined to be her husband. I mean seriously, I can hardly believe that someone who fits so perfectly with the 'girl of my dreams' is coming to the UK next week to marry me. It's a miracle!

I have a lot to thank Sheffield uni for, and a lot to thank the world in general for.

Thank you world

(now please tell Apple to get on with the MobileMe launch. .mac was due offline 9 minutes ago but it's still working!).

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The shouting lady


I spent much of today in the library, hammering my dissertation into shape. We're getting there. All but the conclusion written.

This week, the weather has been just beautiful. Real warm sunny days, no need for jumpers or jackets. This brings me such enormous pleasure. It's been a very long winter, and I was getting to be truly tired of cold mornings.

Pondersa Park on a Sunday at 7am is a beautiful place to be. Arriving there this morning I was struck by the peace. Here I was in the centre of Sheffield, but close my eyes and I could easily have been deep in a Siberian forest. All I could hear was birdsong (and beautiful birdsong at that). I stood there for a while and soaked it up - country bumpkin that I am it was like having my batteries recharged.

Just as I was about to fall into a trance, I was suddenly dragged back into reality by the sound of shouting. I opened my eyes. At the other side of the field I could make out a woman in bright white trousers and a black top. She was walking briskly towards me. Shouting. At first I couldn't catch what she was saying, then I realised that there was a good reason for that - she was shouting in Chinese. She continued to shout in Chinese as she crossed the field heading in my direction ...then walked straight past me. She showed no acknowledgement of my being there. Just carried on looking straight ahead, shouting.

She seemed quite happy in her shouting though.




I got a little upset with *Twinkle* this afternoon. I'm not sure where it came from. She hadn't said anything that might have provoked me. I think it came about as a result of pressure that's been building up, anxiety over our post-wedding plans, or more precisely, the lack of plans. With finances extremely tight and my being unable to work immidiately following my return to Japan (it will take a little while to exchange the tourist visa I'll be flying on for a spouse visa), I've been wondering whether I shouldn't stay in the UK for a little while after our wedding in order that I can save some money. But that doesn't really seem right. It goes against the spirit of a new marriage.

Thinking on our brief email conversation, I realised that the time had come to make a decision. I'd been waiting for some kind of sign, and this was it.

I called the magic number, and 20 minutes later has a small loan arranged, to be paid back once I start work. This means that I can fly the same day as *Twinkle* - Sunday July 27th 2008, and thus I should be able to start work sometime in late August / early September. I'll call the embassy in the morning to check the details.
I am extremely grateful to the people who are helping me out here, thank you.




Tomorrow sees the start of my penultimate week of classes. The end isn't in sight yet though. Lots to do between now and my final exam. (All this endingness has had me looking back at beginnings. I can't believe I was in women's clothing only a month after my arrival in Sheffield).

ttfn

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Wondering what's around the corner


I'm about a third of a way through the 27-hour audio version Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicles.

Murakami is the first fiction author whose books I've read more than one of - this is my third (following Kafka on the Shore & Norwegian Wood).

I'm finding this one as involving as the previous two, and I'm wondering, is it now reaching that point where it start to teach me whatever it is I need to learn from it?

If I think of Kafka working in the library, I'm back there on the carpeted floor of the Mongolian Yurt on day two of my stay last summer- thankfully not being skinned alive (not the most relaxing bedtime story. I could hardly bear to listen to it). If I move on a bit to Hoshino trying to open the stone I'm bumping along on that 9-hour car journey back to the capital, Ulaanbatar. I almost feel like I wouldn't have survived that journey without sharing in Nakata's own journey.

Norwegian Wood (which sees me clearing the path on the Welsh Garden Project site) led me, I realised afterwards, to finally come to understand an old Japanese friend of mine. I'd lost contact with her, abruptly, and I never figured out why. When listening to Norwegian Wood, she popped into my head once or twice, and i recognised her in the characters portrayed. It felt good to have closure on that.

As I listen to Toru tell the story of his marriage to Kumiko, I can't help but think of my own marriage. It's something I've been thinking about quite a lot in any case, as is only natural. What does it actually mean to me? This feeling of responsibility it contains - is that coming from within me, I mean really within me, or is it more a product of outside influence?

How will our life differ this time from last time we lived together? Then, I was a student, on a temporary stay. This time it will be very different. There will be an element of ...permanentness.

How will this affect my attitude towards life in general? In a way I have had it easy for the past 8 years. Ever since I split up with my ex in fact, and left Torquay for Switzerland. But even then,despite the fact that we'd bought a house together, deep down we knew that it was only temporary. Since then, I've lived knowing that even if I made absolutely no effort at instigating change myself, my life would change in a big way anyway, all by itself, within a maximum of 12 months.

Switzerland: I was on seasonal contracts.
Japan: My visa would expire
Bristol (UK): My Access course would come to an end
Sheffield: I would graduate


And now, as of August 2008, I will not have this safety net of prescribed change. If I want things to happen in my life, it will be entirely up to me. If I let myself drift along (as is only to easy to do), I may be happy in the short term, I will get things done, change will occur ...but I'll feel somehow unfulfilled. I don't think I'm the kind of person cut out for that. Many people are, and that's great, I'm not knocking them for that, but I feel like I am so absolutely packed full of energy just bursting to be channelled into 'stuff' that I'd be stifled by having no prospect of guaranteed change or progression.

In a way, this is another reason why i want the CIR job in Japan. With an annual contract (renewable up to 5 years) there's that time limit. It would push me to make the most of today, every day, and never put off trying to realise dreams for some tomorrow that will never come.

I sometimes wonder where this excitement has come from. Did I always have it? According to my beliefs, yes, I did. I have always been a little hyper; "OTT" was how I was described to my parents by my teacher as a teenager (I felt terrible about that at the time, like I'd really let them al down).

Hmmm.

I hope to get a reply from the embassy this coming week. It's nearing a month since everyone else was informed. I can only assume that my application is continuing to give them grief due to my request to be near *Twinkle*. In a way though, I feel the longer I wait, the better the chances that this will all work out for the best.

It feels a bit like sitting in the bottom of a well though, waiting for a line to be cast down. It's not a well of doom and despair, just a well of contemplation and nervous tension, wondering what the view is going to be like when I get out.

Ho hum. Start of a brand new week in the morning.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Heading North, one last time

So this is it. I’m on the train for my last trip back to Sheffield. In seven weeks, it’ll all be over (that is, apart from one exam and my graduation).

Just seven weeks. It’ll fly by. That’s kind of comforting, because I know that no matter how many things I have on my to do list for this final stint, in seven weeks, they won’t be on it any more.

The challenge is to stay motivated. It’s harder now than ever before as these past few weeks my mind has steadily marched ahead of me. It’s now looking towards the wedding, starting a new life with Twinkle, leaving the UK, working. What makes it a little more difficult is that no matter what my results this semester, my final degree classification is unlikely to change. If my calculations are correct, it’s either a 2:1, or a fail (I’m not prepared to bust a gut for an unlikely first).

I should hear next week one way or another whether I got the local government job in Japan. I know three of my friends have received job offers (congrats!), but I’m yet to hear a thing. The embassy tell me that they send them out over a period of a month, so it could be anytime. Whilst the interview went well, I was very honest about my feelings re. Twinkle and thus am not going to be the most desirable of candidates: fancy putting a relationship before a job!

[an hour or so later…]

It’s been a difficult last few days as I have battled with myself over this dissertation. With my interest in the topic (NGOs in Japan) having peaked about 2 months too soon it is now a real slog to get the words out. In fact, I gave up writing anything half-decent and resorted to just typing up what I knew, almost in spoken form. I know I’ll need to rewrite it all, but if I don’t get something down they’ll be no progress at all.

With this frustration has come late nights, tiredness, and a short temper. I’ve been snapping at my parents, which I’m sorry about. I feel very hypocritical, but at the same time appreciate that I wouldn’t be human if I was always able to live in harmony with my core beliefs. It’s just a shame I chose them as my victims.

On a slightly more upbeat note, I had a lovely evening last night. Went over to see some old school friends who I’ve remained pretty close to since leaving. We sat around, talked, ate a delicious supper, talked some more. I felt so happy. They are one of the nicest families I know. So kind, so easy to be with, so welcoming. It's spending time with people like that really reinforce what a precious gift friendship is. What would we do without it?

Anyway, bus motion is making me feel a bit sick, so I’ll toddle along. Must get to sleep as soon as I get home, we have a meeting at 8am for our publishing business!

Tarra.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Norwegian Wood, Religious Weddings and the Canvas of Life


Latest addition to my mum's art portfolio

Fascinating, thrilling day today. It is so great to see family after such a long time.

I caught the tram at 6.30am, train down to Hereford, bus to Wormelow, car to Orcop. Thoroughly enjoyable journey. Not only did I get to indulge in one of all-time favourite hobbies -sewing patches on my jeans (and this was a MAJOR patch, handmade by my talented friend Suzie H a couple of years back, I've been saving it for such an occasion as today's), but also, I was able to indulge in listening to a new Audiobook - Norwegian Wood by Murakami. I've not read it before, but have long wanted to, knowing how much it is liked by so many of my friends. I absolutely loved 'Kafka on the Shore': I listened to that as I crossed the East China Sea, and found myself identifying with the characters as they made their own journey's West.

Whilst the narration of Norwegian Wood is not spellbinding in the way that that of Kafka was, I'm really enjoying the story nonetheless. I recognise the characters in people I know, the most prominent example being that of the upper-class womaniser destined to be a bureaucrat, who appears to me as the chap from Oxford university who made it to the final of the speech contest with me last month (to the right of me in this picture).



I did a bit of PC-doctoring today, getting my sister's webcam working for Skype (secret is to uninstall the Logitec software and let Skype handle the camera itself) which the boys liked (funny seeing yourself on screen for the first time!), and setting up iTunes so she can listen to some of the audiobooks I've purchased from Audible (you can license up to 3 computers to play your DRM-protected tracks).

Also talked about the wedding quite a bit, lots of good ideas emerging. It's going to be great.

One 'issue' that comes up for some people is this getting-married-in-a-church business. Neither *Twinkle* or I are particularly religious, and as you know, I am not too keen on traditional Christian notions of an almighty 'God' ...so why do I want to get married in a church?

Well, as with everything in life, a church wedding only carries the meaning that an individual chooses to assign to it. In Japan, 'church' weddings are popular (although the church is unlikely to be 'real' and the priest may well be a fake). I feel I have been somewhat influenced by the research I carried out on Japanese 'Christian weddings' in 2006/07, in that for me such a wedding does not necessarily have to relate to any religious tradition, and is really very appealing.

What others may label as "God" I feel is a nameless infinite source; love; an immense energy that fills us, that is us, and all of our surroundings.

Thus, a demonstration of my commitment to *Twinkle* in the 'presence of God' is for me, not a subscription to norms as laid out in holy texts, but rather, a powerful acknowledgement of our decision to commit to strive to bring our energies, our love, into flexible alignment.

There's other, somewhat more tangible reasons for having a church wedding too. I want to see my dream bride walk down the aisle in a beautiful white dress -it's in all the movies! I want the experience of church bells ringing overhead, confetti being thrown as we leave the church. I've been influenced by popular culture, and I want to live the dream.

I also feel that our parents would appreciate a church wedding. Perhaps here again I am influenced by Japanese customs I feel that our wedding is in a way as much an event for our families as it is for us.

Dad

I'm not sure I could have handled a church wedding a year or two ago, but the timing now is perfect.




It's been a tremendous day of synchronisity. I won't go into details here, but just to say that thoughts that have been circulating within my head have today been vocalised by two people close to me, quite out of the blue. It's all related to where do I go from here? Suddenly, concerns over employment after I return to Japan are made to seem like nothing but minor details that are sure to addressed through the natural unfolding of life.

These worries have been dwarfed by the appearance of this huge blank canvas that stretches out as far as the eye can see. In front of it is this incredible array of coloured materials and tools for their application. There's a sign there too. It reads:

Paint your future. Then Live it.


Aghh! I can't deal with that! Where's the colouring book with the numbered options: 1 for red, 2 for blue, 3 for green? Just choose your picture and fill in as prescribed. I know if I do that I'll succeed, everyone does!

...but a blank canvas?! You mean I can paint anything at all? ...But, I dunno what to paint! And what if I go wrong, what if I get the colours mixed up?

I must work to accept that it's only when artists move away from the colouring template that new colours are created by the mixing of the primaries, its only through experimentation that breakthroughs in style are made - and that it is these breakthroughs that bring great joy to artist and onlooker alike.

I've not been faced with such a huge canvas before. It keeps on getting bigger too as it is unrolled further by friends, by family, by books, by experiences. I understand that I'm being challenged to pick up one of the many tools before me and make my mark, but what tool I should use, and what colour should I apply?

It'll come to me. I know it will. I needn't be afraid because I will be guided by someone or something.

It's also important that I not feel I have to paint the whole picture with a single brushstroke - I'd never dare make that sweep from left to right! If I start small with little dabs, holding a clear idea of what I'm looking to create in my mind, with time the scene will emerge. I may accidentally put a splurge of red where green would be better suited, but that red will come to play an important part, perhaps a little poppy in the field of wheat.

Hmm, it's very exciting.

What's even more exciting though, is that in reality, we are all faced with this canvas, every single day.

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