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Friday, January 23, 2009

A new study set-up



My old study-setup

I'm very much an advocate of taking action to change one's surroundings should they not be conducive to feeling at ease. For example, a friend of mine has been having issues at work involving smoke from an adjoining (smoking) room filling her office, but rather than just complain about it she went out and bought some plastic sheets and a couple of heaters, in order to seal the gap between above the partition wall and deal with the resulting lack of hot air that was blow through by the air conditioner. She is now going to be happier in the short term, and live longer too.

My new getting-up-at-6am routine is going really well - I love it, and manage to get a tonne of stuff done in the 90 minutes extra that I have each day. Studying Japanese is the main activity. This involves me going through my electronic dictionary's history to review words I'd looked up the previous day, and transferring them to Anki and paper flash cards (sometimes an iPhone interface is just too distracting). I've also got a couple of text books to work through, oh, and I've restarted my Japanese blog.

It's appalling how much I've forgotten since I stopped studying, so the entries you'll find on there are more reminiscent of the stuff I was writing at the end of my first year at uni than what you might expect from a graduate. I'm not embarrassed about this. I know I can do better, and I know that given frequent practice I will do better.

I've decided to use my photos as the theme, writing about where / why they were taken. Simple, yet very personal to me. I like that.

It also prevents me from using the excuse that "I have nothing to write about".



Another thing I've done to encourage study is buy myself a proper desk. The Japanese-style coffee table was doing my knees / legs no good at all, and left me in quite a bit of pain if I sat there too long. Thus, I popped down to the local department store and bought a fairly cheap table, and two metres of cloth for a table cloth. I love it!

The storage shelf thing that was in this room has been moved next door, although the two sets of stationary drawers remain close at hand under the two tables.

I've also decided to stop using my MacBook as a laptop at home. By plugging in an external monitor and keyboard it's possible to use Mac laptops when they're closed - I keep it under the desk out of the way.

There are a few reasons I've done this:
  1. It gives me more space on the desk for study materials;
  2. I don't have to look at all the trailing wires emerging from my Macbook;
  3. My mind associates this monitor / keyboard with study / 'work' and not all the stuff I associate my Macbook with.


It really makes a big difference. I'm far more productive now I have a space designed for what I need to do. Kind of no-brainer really.

Anyway, it's bath-time now, then muesli, then off to the office to continue work on the new website for students. I'm using Joomla in order to ensure that the site can be updated for many years to come by people other than myself. As with Wordpress, I am staggered by the improvements Joomla has seen in recent years. A world away from the thing I dabbled with a while back!

Have a productive day!

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Into the recycle bin



Busy bee, spotted on the way back from the exam.

13 hours into freedom

So, I spent much of the afternoon feeling somewhat lost, before deciding that what was called for was assertiveness. I need to move on. No point in lingering in some in-between state. It's too easy to comfort oneself with the idea that change takes a long time. It doesn't. It takes a split second. The time it takes to make the decision.

Thus, I've spent the last few hours sorting through four years of handouts, reams of notes, kanji tests, pink essays, green essays and blue essays, and selecting a few choice morsels to keep. Included in my archive for posterity are select examples of all types of homework from the language course over all years, some classic examples of the handouts we were given, and the results of all the essays I handed in for non-language modules. This means that thousands of pages have been reduced to one folder's worth.

Here's just some of the work that will be going in the recycle skip in a minute.

my degree

You know what though, I am absolutely staggered how much work we've done. The amount of effort that went in to some of those modules (especially in the second year) beggars belief. How did they get me to sign up for all this?!

I'm glad we covered so much though. Not just in terms of language, but history, politics, social issues. I remember when I first went to Japan I didn't have a clue about any of this stuff. It helps, to know one's context. Still a lot to learn though, stuff that can only really be picked up by spending several years living there.

It would be nice to be there now really. Having completed the course it kind of feels natural that I go back to Japan and be reunited with *Twinkle*. No such luck though - 3 more months till that (very) happy day!

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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 25, 2008

Bank Holiday stuff

Every time I come back to my parent's house I make a point of a) eating mum's home-made chocolate cake, and b) sorting through the stuff under my old bed to see what of my belongings can be given away. As time passes so it becomes easier to dispose of stuff, and it's now reached the stage where all that's left is photos, 40 or so diaries (written when I was age 10 ~ 25), Main Lesson books from the Steiner School, and a large collection of letters from friends before the dawning of email. Oh, and the two amazing jumpers which mum knitted for me when I was about 7 years old, which I'm keeping for our girls (they WILL like dragons!). Come July, it'll be a case of packing these up and giving Yamato Kuro Neko (delivery co) a call - Sheffield Japan Society members being eligible for a discount.

When having a look for any boxes I may have missed last night I came across a camera bag: in it, the old Olympus OM10 that got me started in photography way back in the 18th century. I thought it had been chucked, and so was pretty happy to see it again. I was even more pleased to find the old flash unit that went with it, which, it turns out, works with my NIKON D40x DSLR. OK, so it doesn't exactly sync - I have to put the D40x on manual and compensate -but it fires. Can't use it at shutter speeds above 1/250 though as the flash fires too late and you end up with a section blacked out as the shutter closes (see example of various shutter speeds, from 1/1000 to 1/300 to left). But yeah, this is great as I've wanted a flash unit for a while now as the built-in flash tends to result in bland images, and new Speedlights cost a bomb. This one's got the 360/90 degree swivel so it can be bounced off any surface, resulting in a much more natural spread of light.

Just watching my *Twinkle* on skype. She's on the phone to a friend but left the camera on for me to gaze longingly at her. Happy. Haven't been in touch much lately so it's so nice to see her face again. Reassuring to know that I can understand almost everything she says despite feeling that my Japanese has suffered a bit since I left Japan. And reassuring to find that she's even cuter on skype than in my imagination (tee hee). What will she be like in reality I wonder?

You know I said recently that I'd be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test test this year? Well, I've been thinking a bit more about this and decided that really, I'd like to enrol on some language course or have a weekly private class to ensure that I really do continue to improve. Also, I'd like to take some training courses of some kind. Exactly what kind I don't know. Some vocational courses. I feel that if I'm to make the most of this chance then I need some guidance. It's all very well having skills, but if you don't know how to apply them you're no better off than a hedgehog armed with an aluminium foil helmet being approached by the Wheels of Doom.

It's funny really, on the one hand I am sick of studying, but on the other hand, the thought of further study/training really excites me. I guess it's because I associate further training with almost immediate benefits to my family. Must be careful not to hide behind "needing more training" though.

Anyway, I'd best finish off this assignment that's due in tomorrow.

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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