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Friday, December 26, 2008

Plans for 2009

Meet your teachers: George and I warm up for our telephone English lessons

George and I at work

Just one more day of work at the office remains this year. Whilst I usually work alone on Saturdays, taking calls from those students of mine who are unable to call during the week, tomorrow the rest of the office crew will join me. They'll be turning up in their casual clothes for the annual oosouji - cleanup - traditionally carried out at the end of the year in all homes and workplaces in Japan.

I've chosen to work much of my week off at a private school in order to scrape together the rest of the money needed for moving house - we've decided that we'll definitely be leaving our apartment in February. With our current place being very old and not insulated in any way we'd rather not stay here. Had there been no costs involved in staying, we'd put up with it, but with a contract renewal fee of 180,000 yen (approximately £1000) it just doesn't make sense. It's an absolute con, and encourages us further in our mission to become property owners (to create a passive income, and provide a comfortable place for people to stay when visiting Tokyo / temporarily homeless. It's partly inspired by dear John John who always had an open-door policy).

I'm really looking forward to my few days off work next week, as it means I can put some serious time and effort into working on the two web-based projects I'm feeling really fired up about. One is the online publishing company that we started last year, the other is a podcast which I've desperately wanted to create ever since I got back, but have been lacking in a podcast partner. I found the ideal person in the phone booth next to me at work. He's crazy. Crazy George.

I'd also like to redesign The Daily Mumble - move it over to Wordpress 2.7 - but that's going to have to wait. I'm seriously considering using some paid holiday to work on this and the other projects.

Next month will see planning / work commence on a new website (and hopefully podcast) for the company - an idea long discussed but never acted upon, until myself and crazy George got all hyped up it a couple of days ago. I'm excited about that. Another great opportunity to be creative, learn a lot, and have something to show for our efforts at the end of the day.

It also happens to be exactly what I have long-envisioned doing.

I'm getting real excited about 2009. I feel it's going to be a great year.

2008 has been a pretty spectacular though, personally speaking. I got married, graduated from uni, returned to Japan with a proper visa thus successfully completing a five year plan. I've started exercising regularly, I've got a fulfilling job, and earlier in the year I had some big successes in my work at the University of Sheffield.

I've continued to read, courtesy of Audible.co.uk.

I've also got my procrastination under control. This year, I learnt that procrastination can actually be used to increase one's productivity. Realising this, I actively sought to make my procrastination the good sort. This not only resulted in me being able to get a lot more done in the limited time I had, but also relieved me of the feelings of guilt and stress that tended to accompany my procrastination sessions.

I think finishing uni helped too...!

Looking to the year ahead, I aim to make real progress in bringing the projects I mentioned above to fruition, in addition to working more to support *Twinkle* with the further growth of our Amway business. I will avoid doing overtime at the office, but instead be very productive in my allotted hours there. I will also work to be a less grumpy husband - when I'm tired I sometimes turn into a big baby. *Twinkle* is very patient, but she shouldn't have to be.

I also plan to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and run a quarter marathon, an ekiden and a half marathon too. I want to run the Honolulu marathon in 2010.

I don't really have any goals in terms of ownership - it's experiences and personal development that matter, not owning 'things'. (Having said that, I would like a Macbook pro and a mid-range Nikon DSLR, but I think they'll have to wait until 2010).

I see the year ahead as being pretty intense, quite tiring, but with little stress - and a lot of fun and satisfaction. I see myself growing in confidence, being less concerned by the opinions of others, and more understanding of ways of communicating in these parts. I'll be continuing to work on living in alignment with what is 'right', and resisting attempted coups by my ego.

Hmmm, it's all pretty exciting really!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thought on New Years resolutions

ri-kun the tortoise_2245

Ri-kun on the tatami

I finished reading Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" this evening. [Wikipedia] [official site]. The New York Times accurately described it as "much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama’s policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq."

Whilst it might sound like it would be a right yawn for someone like me who has little interest in politics, I liked it a lot (although admittedly, I did fast-forward through some chapters that in which he talked in detail about the US political process). It served to give me a feel for Obama as a person, and I must say, he seems to be a bloomin' nice chap. I also found myself thinking that I'm like his wife, Michelle, in some ways.

I'm now listening to 'Tribes' by Seth Godin, which focuses upon marketing in the age of Twitter and Facebook. It's received mixed reviews, with some people noting that it just reads like a load of blog posts, that there's nothing new in it and that it lacks depth. All true perhaps, but that doesn't bother me. As someone very much interested in the uses of social networking services in marketing / creating communities / building businesses, I find it fascinating - and inspiring too. There's a fair amount of inspirational stuff in it that can be found in many other 'You can do it' books - but I need to hear this.

I am an ideas person, but I fear putting my ideas into action. Ideas for a publishing company. Ideas for a Penguin business. Every day, lots of ideas.

I think much of this fear stems from a fear of what others may think of me, a fear that is utterly ridiculous and serves no useful purpose in my life - it only holds me back. It kind of p*sses me off really.

I know I've come a long way, but I could do so much better. The fact is that those people who really know me know that I'm a good, trustworthy person - with flaws. Thus, they forgive me my errors in judgement and continue to support me, in return for my support and love of them. I don't need to fear losing those who are precious to me (they include all of my friends).

But what of those who think I'm stupid, misguided or deceitful, and then treat me with contempt? I'm scared of being treated with contempt.

But that's ridiculous. Looking back over the past 15 years or so, I can't think of a single occasion when someone important to me has treated me with genuine contempt. Why do I even entertain these ideas? I'm a good person, I know I am, and I don't need to have these fears.

These past few days I have begun mulling over my New Year's resolutions for 2009. One that I've been considering is 'Action without Fear'.

Crikey. That's a bit scary.

The thing is, there's no point in making such a resolution unless I act on it. That will require a conscious effort on a daily basis. I think if I do adopt it, it will need to be classed as an 'experiment' limited to a period of say, 3 months (long enough to see tangible results?), with regular progress reviews built in. You might think that overkill, but when it comes to things that are uncomfortable and require self-motivated/self-enforced persistence, I need to use all the tools available to me to succeed. (Look at me with my iPhone and Jogging schedule).

I also recognise that I need a tangible goal to aim for. It could be having my photos on public display, generating a certain amount of income from Amway, registering a certain number of artists with Three Seeds - it could include all three, and of course more.

I think 'change' will be the key word for 2009. I, like everyone else on Earth, am afforded the opportunity to change almost any aspect of my life every single day, yet I fail to appreciate that most of the time. I subjugate myself to the status quo - it's easier that way.

But that's not good enough! I have a responsibility to be the best that I can be.

No, I shouldn't need a New Year to make changes, but I don't feel strong enough to act alone at the moment. The calendar will be my ally.

Anyway, it's time for bed. We're having our Christmas Day tomorrow as it's a national holiday (emperor's birthday) - everyone is able to gather at the family home just north of Tokyo. Excited!

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dissertation: The benefits of procrastination

I was in the library just after 9am this morning; it's now 1.45am, and I got home 15 minutes ago. A 16.5 hour day, not bad. It was punctuated by an hour spent with my classmates, first year and second students on our course, in a meeting about the Year Abroad. That was fun. It was also really nice to see so many of us Japanese studies students together, you know, like one big family. Even making it through the first year is quite an accomplishment - so in a way we were all survivors.

I think Angela (joint head of Japanese language) does a fantastic job in co-ordinating our year abroad placements. It's one of those things you take for granted, but she must put in an awful lot of work to make it all happen. Thanks Angela.

...But anyway, apart from that interlude I was in the library, or the basement of the Arts Tower, working on my dissertation. It's nearly done. I just have to check over my referencing and insert a Table of Contents, then that's it.

Unfortunately there isn't really all that much of a sense of achievement. The reason for this is that originally, it was what I felt was a pretty good study of Japan's NGO sector. That was when it was 13,000 words long. But the limit, imposed on the department by the powers that be (who require uniformity across the faculty), is 7,700 (that's including the 10% leeway), which means I have basically had to hack it to bits. What I'm left with is a footnote-heavy scribble, jam-packed with only the essential information, and lacking in context - I feel it's rather a dull read.

I tried to get it down to the prescribed length, but it won't go. Thus, I'll have 2% knocked off my final mark for exceeding the word count, but I'd lose more if I tried to cut anything else out, and in a way I think its important to lose the marks - a vain attempt to make a point - you can't really write a 'dissertation' with multiple chapters etc in 7,700 words. Extended essay yes, dissertation no. How about we are told "Between 7,000 and 10,000". That would make more sense.

Perhaps I should just treat it as an exercise in being Concise.

But anyway, it's not really about the final mark, it's about the process, right? No, seriously, it is, and despite the stress and writer's block, it's been a really good module, and I'm glad that we're required to do it. I'm also very grateful for the support I've received from my tutors, who saved me from a couple of nervous breakdowns.

And yeah, this procrastination thing: In a bid to avoid this dissertation, I have been very busy over the past few months getting all sorts of things done that would otherwise have gone undone. And now, with so much work to do on the piece and so little time to do it in, I'm forced to be highly productive for hours on end (like today). So, the overall effect is high productivity, high productivity. Win Win.

Must do this productive procrastination thing more often.

Anyway, best get off to bed. I have a team bonding session at 10am for an exciting new project I'm involved with at uni aiming to bring Web 2.0 tools into the learning process. I'm guessing it will mainly involve hugging and things, which is nice for a Thursday morning.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wanted: No Internet

It's reached the stage with this dissertation writing where drastic action is called for. I need to go on retreat this weekend to write it.

The only problem is finding somewhere that is affordable, quiet, and has no Internet access. Hotels are out on both counts. I've found a camp site, but it lacks a desk.

If I hadn't got Broadband put in at mum and dad's I could have gone there. Any ideas?

There is another 3-step option, which is looking more and more like the only option:
1) Set up parental controls on my Macbook's second user account so that it will not allow any Internet access, and will only allow me to use my word-processing application, then...

2) Ask my class mate to reset my Macbook's admin password, and not tell me the new password until Monday. Then...

3) Spend the weekend in Western bank library, which has very few PCs with Internet access.
Sounds like a plan.

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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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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Coping

As fresh as a Greek daisy. One of the first ever flower-shots I took, back in 1996

I'm glad I don't usually have a car. Two parking tickets, a blow-out, and now today a section of the front bumper missing after someone reversed into me in the car park. I really am glad that on the whole, cars don't excite me.

It's been a pretty full-on few days. I was a photographer at a business seminar down south on Saturday - that was in-between the trouser-patch sewing, which incidentally when very well, although when I got home I realised that one of the patches was unintentionally shaped and positioned to look like a big testicle...

Having had the major Sheffield Graduate Award deadline on Friday, I'd spent much of the week getting my portfolio together. Thus, it was only on Sunday that I dared to finally re-open my to-do database.

Gulp. It was rather full.

One major to-do is my dissertation; I've got a deadline of Wednesday lunchtime to get the next section in, but it's not going to happen. I felt very weary on Sunday, and it soon became apparent that I wasn't going to do any work on it, as I was too busy hoovering, tidying up the noticeboard etc. Realising that this wasn't a good situation to be in, I gave myself permission to procrastinate for the rest of the day - provided I procrastinated by doing stuff that was on my to-do list (but required less emotional input). That turned out to be a good decision, as I managed to deal with a whole bunch of emails that demanded responses, I wrote a journal article (1 down, 3 to go!), sorted out some wedding stuff, spoke to *Twinkle*, processed some outstanding RAW images, changed the wheel on the car again, and dealt with the huge bunch of paperwork that has been gathering on my table with the legs sawn off.

At the end of the day I felt quite happy with how I'd turned it around.

Today is the first day in the past week that I've not taken a potent cocktail consisting of a large dose of Vitamin B and Caffeine to keep me going. As a result of this, my body has finally had a chance to reassert itself, by sending me to sleep in the library at lunchtime. To be fair though, I was up at 6am again today for the usual (if temporary) morning routine: This involves picking up food from a community centre with a scary alarm, delivering it to the university shop, processing returns, picking up the catering trailer from up the hill, setting that up on campus, and fetching water. I love challenging myself to apply Lean Production tecniques to cut down the amount of time it takes me to get this done. I've now got it down from 2.5 hours to 90 minutes. I like looking out of the window when I'm back home at 8am, seeing the traffic queues and thinking, "wasn't like that when I got up!"

With these temporary responsibilities I've 'not had time' for my daily exercise: the negative impact this loss has upon my energy levels is staggering.

Today has been semi-productive. I was in the library for about 8 hours, reading books when I wasn't dozing off. But I have felt under considerable pressure.

Indeed, tonight it did all get to be a bit too much for me. Absolute exhaustion, and a desire to say 'sod it all'. To ease things, I went and bought a big tub of ice cream, a bar of chocolate, and some stationary. I now feel somewhat better, and very fat.

More helpful than the consumption of 3 million calories though has been the recollection of a fundamental truth,

It Doesn't Matter.

None of it does. Journals will still be published without my input, life will carry on without my emails, I will graduate (with a 2:1) even if I only get 40% on all my modules. Just pass, that's enough.

As a treat, I gave myself an hour off my dissertation today and used it to look for jobs. That's something else that has been on my to-do list. It wasn't all that positive really, just tonnes of teaching jobs, but I'm not worried. I have a strong feeling that everything is going to work out for the best. I trust that when the time comes for me to act, I will know it.

I realised today that it's actually going to be another 4 months before I see *Twinkle*. That brought me down a bit. I've been missing her so much recently, probably partly due to the fact that she would really benefit from my support at the moment. I miss being very much in touch with how she is feeling today, emotionally, and I miss her physical warmth.

Hmm, still, the way things are going these four months will fly by, and before you know it we'll be back off to Japan. I am so looking forward to living with her again.

Well, it's now 10pm, and time for me to go to sleep. Tomorrow will be another long day, bu a productive and enjoyable one too, and thus I look forward to it.

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