Every Day is Vaguely the Same

If you ever want to verify that you need to shake things up in your life, keep a diary. If you want to make the sameness even more horrifying, try keeping a log in different colored inks.

I’ve mentioned before how I’m not a big fan of keeping a diary (with apologies to all my history professors who consider such items to be an important part of history which is why I hope historians will some day find my diary and wonder if I could actually fly) but have decided to experiment with keeping a daily log, where I record events and my thoughts on them soon after they happen. To do so, I use different colored inks for different events. Weather is usually done in Noodler’s Midway Blue and Apache Sunset and my morning routing and morning pages are done in either purple or green.

This not only gives the log some visual flair but also lets me test different inks and pens on the Muji paper.

Now, at four months of making regular entries, I’ve begun to notice flaws in the plan.

Part of the trouble is I only have a few inks. After several days, each page looks similar to the ones before and after and I even seem to dedicate the same amount of space to the same events, including meals and complaining about work. This means despite my efforts to make it interesting have instead made it kind of boring.

Also, because my work days don’t change much from week to week, it’s easy to fall into a foolish consistency in the way I describe them and complain about them. Classes are either crappy, ordinary bad, decent or better than normal. I’m wasting time, fretting over wasting time, writing about wasting time or, on occasion, actually doing something. It’s the same “Okay day” metronome click click click that made me stop keeping diaries in the first place.

Now, there are a few solutions to this:

A–Buy more ink.
B–Try different ways of keeping a log.
C–Both A and B.
D–A and B plus buy a new pen.
E–Abandon this and keep a calendar like a normal person.

As much as I should probably choose E and would like an excuse to choose D, I’m leaning toward C. I do like having a personal history on hand to occasionally peruse, but since the log is supposed to be an experiment, I’m feeling the need to shake it up a bit. No more descriptions of food, I’d rather draw what I ate. No more sloppy sketches of the weather, I’d rather make the sun into a character with regular expressions and a consistent look.

Hopefully, in four months, I won’t have chosen E, but there are days.

A Wedding with Bureaucracy but no Counselling

Because of a wedding ceremony, my late grandmother left her church.

I’ve mentioned before how fifteen years ago She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had bureaucratic issues on the day we chose for our official wedding day. That was then followed by two more wedding ceremonies. The first ceremony, the one in the USA, had its own bureaucratic problems.

The original plan for the US wedding was reasonably simple. We’d play dress up and rather than a ceremony there’d be a reception, cake, presents, and sparkling wine of some sort. However, one relative or another insisted we be married in a church even though we were already married.

This seemed like a simple idea, and even I thought it was a good idea, but the Lutheran church involved wasn’t as impressed. They insisted we go through wedding counseling with representatives from the church. This counseling could be done in Japan with a local representative but SWMBO and I would be required to go through individual counseling not couple’s counseling. After my mom explained this my reaction was, and I believe this was a direct quote, “No fucking way.”

After washing my mouth out with soap at my mother’s insistence (as a requirement for continuing the conversation/remaining her son) I explained that all they were trying to do was convert SWMBO. I’ve been subjected to a religious “intervention” before (it’s part of the reason I’m more a supporter of religion than churches–more on that in another post.) and I wasn’t going to let that happen to SWMBO especially as we were already married.

After much negotiation on the US side of the issue, my grandmother threw her hands up and said “fuck this” (knowing her, she probably actually said that) and stopped going to that church.

Instead we went to a Methodist church where the pastor did everything she could (not a typo) to make sure we and She Who Must Be Obeyed’s family were taken care of.

No counseling was required, although there are days I think it might have been a good idea…

NOTE: Correction 5/27/2015. Originally stated we went to a Lutheran church when, in fact, it was a Methodist church.

Signs of a Struggle are Not Always What They Seem

A friend of mine kept house so badly that people used to say that if he ever disappeared police would look at his room and declare there was evidence of struggle. That pretty much describes our apartment right now.

As the weather changes from Static to Pleasant, with periodic fits of Humid and Awesome in the same day, we are in the annual “Changing of the Clothes”. This is a process that involves opening the top cabinets of our closets and taking down several soft cases full of summer clothes. Those clothes end up in the living room whilst they are sorted into various piles: fits, doesn’t fit, could fit, give away to someone it might fit, and yes the baby clothes really need to go so give them away to someone with an actual baby because NO WE ARE NOT. (Something like that.)

Then the winter clothes are sorted into fits, full of holes, you only wore this once last winter, you didn’t wear this at all, and really, you think that still fits? Those clothes are then put in the soft cases and returned to the cabinet above the closets.

The problem is this process requires both our girls to be on hand and that’s not always possible once school starts. Also, because She Who Must Be Obeyed is now working she’s not always at home to sort the clothes. (Note: She won’t let me near them.)

There is also the problem of putting the heavy blankets away in the variety room closet which requires moving the “secondary storage” pile in front of the door and then moving a few boxes and putting the blankets away on top of the kerosene heaters and the electric carpet. Because this is currently a complicated process, we try to do it as few times as possible and won’t do it until everything is ready.

The problem right now is that with the clothes stacked up, we haven’t had time to clean and put away the electric carpet. Also, because we haven’t been able to finish the carpet, we’re also backed up on revamping the emergency supplies which means more stuff is scattered about the variety room than usual.

Yes, there are signs of a struggle, just not what you’d expect.

Backpocket Journal (Tomoe River Edition)–Long Term Review

I don’t remember where I heard about Curnow Bookbinding and Leatherwork’s Backpocket Journals, but once I did, I ordered a few packs of their Tomoe River editions. That was the first problem.

Curnow seems to be a casually run business that generally only sells stuff that’s available (it apparently will take special orders, though) and does so through an oddly complicated process:

They announce what’s available.
You email them and tell them what you want.
They tell you the price including shipping.
You respond and agree to the price.
They send you a PayPal invoice.
You pay.
They send you notebooks.

It took a few extra steps, but they arrived with no problems.

It took a few extra steps, but they arrived with no problems. Each order has three notebooks and a lined insert.

Once this process is over, you end up with three well made notebooks. Backpocket Journals are 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) by 5.25 inches (13.36 cm). This puts them halfway between a passport and a Field Notes notebook. The ones I ordered had rounded corners and cream card stock covers. They have sewn bindings that hold 48 pages of unlined fountain pen friendly Tomoe River paper).

A Backpocket Journal sandwiched between a passport sized MUJI notebook and a Field Notes notebook.

A Backpocket Journal sandwiched between a passport sized MUJI notebook (top) and a Field Notes notebook (bottom).

The Tomoe River paper makes the notebook thinner and flimsier than a Field Notes notebook. At first I was unimpressed because, although they are gorgeous, the Backpockets feel too flimsy to last. The one I used, though, survived over a month in my pocket and my bag with few problems. The only visible signs of wear were some wrinkles, black scuff marks on the cream card stock paper and small tears around the holes for the binding thread. The thinness makes them well suited for backpockets as they conform to any shape back end.

Only perfectionist fountain pen users will dislike the paper. There is the typical ghosting that comes with Tomoe River paper, but only Noodler’s Apache Sunset managed to bleed through, although it didn’t mark the following page. Curnow includes a lined card to serve as backing. I personally never used this as it was just something else to carry, but it does provide a good book mark and adds just a touch of rigidity to the notebook when you’re writing without a hard surface.

I like them a lot and will add them to my rotation of notebooks (I’m using about one a month now) but I’m not sure I’ll get any more, especially as I already have a lot of pocket sized notebooks. I would like to try one of the regular edition Backpocket Journals to see how it holds up, but we’ll see.

The notebooks fresh out of the post.

The notebooks fresh out of the post.



There’s a First Time for Everything

It’s very rare that I find myself feeling relaxed after a school event, but today was one of those rare days. Today was sports day at our youngest’s school and it was remarkable for a series of firsts.

First, I somehow managed to get through a sporting event without getting angry. This is partly because, for the first time ever, I didn’t encounter any aggressive jerks or assholes. I’m not sure why this was, but the weather was almost perfect. It was 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit) and not humid at all. This made people more relaxed and calm, I suspect.

Second, for the first time ever, at any school I’ve been to in Japan, the schedule ran on time. Lunch started when it was supposed to and ended when it was supposed to In fact, things were moving so swiftly, I almost didn’t make it back from lunch in time to see our youngest take part in the Typhoon Race (which involves four people carrying a pole around a couple cones and then under and over everyone else on the team. Long story.) I’d budgeted for the usual “Well get there eventually” schedule and arrived fashionably late only to find out I was actually late.

Third, our youngest was chosen to design the flag for her class. This is also the first year the classes had flags.

The flag our youngest designed.

The flag our youngest designed.

Fourth, it was a close contest. For those who don’t know, on sports day the school is divided into the Red Team and the White Team. (Our youngest was on the white team.) Everyone competes in the events and the teams earn points based on how they place in the events. (Some events are individual, some are team events.) The prize is a trophy and bragging rights. This year the white team won by only 20 points. This, I believe, is the closest contest I remember.

The final results at the top. Red 660. White 680. (Notice our youngest's flag on the left.)

The final results at the top. Red 660. White 680. (Notice our youngest’s flag on the right, second from the top.)

Fifth, our youngest, for the first time ever, once her heat in the 80 meter dash. (Each class is divided into heats and the winners of each heat get a red ribbon and their team gets points.) Our youngest traditionally has not done well in the running. Last year she was second; this year she won, although she still has a bad habit of slowing down before the tape instead of running through it.

Our youngest crossing the tape. (After slowing down, of course.)

Our youngest (left) crossing the tape. (After slowing down, of course.) She just edged out a red team member.

After the Typhoon Race, our youngest watches the pole pass over everyone. You can see the red ribbon on her shoulder.

Our youngest in a later event. You can see the red ribbon of victory pinned to her shoulder.

Now we get five months to rest before our oldest’s school has her sports day. I usually don’t get angry during that one. (More on that in a future post.)


Vintage Things and the Dregs of Someone Else’s Past

Someone, I think it was Brad Dowdy the Pen Addict, said he wasn’t particularly interested in vintage pens because there were too many new pens worth having and they didn’t require any special care.

I recently bought a vintage Pilot Capless and although I like it, I’m beginning to come around to the Pen Addict’s point of view. Sort of. I think there are a couple problems with vintage pens.

First, it bothers me that something only a couple years older than I am is considered vintage.

Second, unless they’ve been cleaned carefully, they come with problems that most new pens don’t have. (There are exceptions, but more on those in another post.) In the case of my Pilot Capless I gave it a good water flush right after I bought it and then inked it up with Pilot Iroshizuku Murasaki-Shikubu, a purple ink that’s reasonably safe for using in any and all fountain pens.

At first I was impressed with the pen. It has a Fine nib which is smaller than I’m used to, but it wrote well. In fact, it worked great right up until the moment it didn’t. Half way through a set of morning pages it suddenly went dry. I emptied it out and soaked it in cleaning solution for several hours and then tried inking it again.

Once again, it worked well until it didn’t. I also noticed the purple ink had developed a noticeable blue-black tinge. This led to me cleaning it out again and letting it soak for 24 hours in cleaning solution. The results were kind of gross. By morning a layer of crud from past owners had formed in the bottom of the ink bottle I use as a cleaning glass.

This is gross but I've been told drinking it will give me super powers.

This is gross but I’ve been told drinking it will give me super powers.

Now, it’s been dried and inked and seems to be writing well. The blue-black tinge is gone and it has better flow.

We’ll find out for sure tomorrow, though, when I attempt morning pages with it. If it goes dry halfway through, there will be swearing.

This has led me to be more skeptical of buying vintage pens. That said, I may leave a not with Mr. Fujii at Euro Box to let me know if any more vintage capless pens appear in this store.



Abandoning that Paper Thing and Hoping the Batteries Last

Well, maybe it was a waste of time after all.

I’ve written before about my odd (to most normal people) habit/hobby of constructing my own analogue calendars, entering the dates by hand and then crossing off the days as I go along. It takes a couple hours of work (plus or minus several minutes of swearing at various complications) to get it more or less how I want it.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended.

Have fun now, because your days are probably numbered. No pun intended. (No, really, they are numbered.)

Normally I carry it around and scribble To Do lists and random daily tasks and record correspondence and then use it as reference to remind me where I was and when. In the past I also kept all my calendars as a reference.  For the record, on one occasion I actually had to refer to them to establish the most likely possible day the term would end and summer would begin allowing a colleague to make travel plans. (Therefore hoarding, for want of a better word, is good. Hoarding  works.)

I also mentioned, though, that I’d also started using Google Calendar as a back up.

The trouble is, this year, I’ve been using the back up more than the analogue version. I can use it on my phone and my tablet and can use it on different browsers. It’s easy to change and I can make corrections without having to track down some correction tape. and leave evidence of my mistakes everywhere.

Lately, the analogue calendar has been carried but not consulted. Every now and then I remind myself to look through it and cross off the days, but that doesn’t inspire me to use it.

I’m now at the point where I’m ready to pull it apart and salvage what I can. (I can also just turn it backwards and upside down and use it for morning pages.) I am, however, struggling with the sunk cost fallacy. which in my case can be summed up as “I made the thing and even though I don’t use it I have to carry it so that didn’t waste my time making it even though I don’t use it because carrying it is symbolic of me having made it to use even though I don’t use it.” Something like that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to enter the destruction date in my Google Calendar. I just hope the batteries last in my phone.


Morning Pages for Worse and for Better

Several months ago, as part of a plan to write more, I decided to try my hand at writing morning pages. I quickly modified them but I’m not sure if that was for the better.

For those who don’t know, “morning pages” are the brainchild of Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way. To do morning pages you’re supposed to wake up, pick up a notebook and knock out three pages of writing without putting any thought, grammar or punctuation into it. (Rather like this blog, at times, now that I think about it.) The theory is that you’re essentially performing a kind of brain dump and cleansing your mind of whatever flows from your fingers and your pen. You then are supposed to throw away the completed notebook.

I tried the pages that way for a while but then eventually felt as if I was wasting time with them.  I’d zone out, nearly fall asleep, and long for coffee. Most of my early pages were along the lines of  “I need coffee I need coffee I need coffee I need coffee sweet mother of Jesus I need coffee coffee coffee coffee my kingdom for coffee my soul for coffee your soul for coffee death to all who refuse to bring me coffee no coffee no life no coffee no God decafen, decaffinated, decaf coffee is evil and freaking hard to spell.” (Something like that.) Basically, it was all the kinds of navel gazing that kept me from writing morning pages in the first place. (In fact, it’s the same thing that kept me from writing a blog for a long time and still keeps me from writing a proper diary.)

That lasted for about a tablet and a half. Since then I’ve modified my morning pages routine. I write on A4 copy paper pads I assembled myself from scrap paper and I don’t start writing until I’ve showered and had at least one sip of coffee. My goal is two A4 pages in half an hour, although I’ve been known to take longer on weekends and days I don’t have to be into work early.

I change pens every day so I have a chance to do long term tests of different pens, nibs and inks on cheap copy paper. I also write different types of pages. There are the whiny brain dumps where I complain about life in general; the pen reviews where I describe how it feels to write with the various pens; and the focused writing.

In the latter I focus on whatever particular project I happen to be working on. I sketch characters and scenes and brainstorm ideas for different plots and different characters. If anything seems particularly useful and legible, I underline it and then go back and type into a computer file. I’ve managed to get some useful stuff that way.

If I were smart, I’d brainstorm one of these blog entries and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. But, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m not that smart.



You Know You Make Wanna


That pretty much explains this morning.

As a rule, although I’m not afraid to let fly an angry “SHUT UP!” that echoes down the hall, I try to avoid shouting at students, especially those in lower level classes. This is because 1) the Japanese tend to react to angry outbursts with laughter that 2) leads to a larger angry outburst and 3) if it’s a lower level class, most of them don’t understand a word I’m saying anyway.

Today my high school classes went well but one of my junior high school second year classes was in a mood from the moment I stepped in the door. They didn’t get sat down once the bell rang and then some of them kept walking around during the warm up. This led to a very rare seat change and the first ever that occurred during the warm ups.

I’d been warned about a few of these students before school started during the traditional annual “Commiseration of the Class Lists” when we look at each other’s class lists and wish each other strength to get through the year.

To this point, the class had been noisy but usually did the assigned activities and work. When this happens it usually means that a day of reckoning is coming, which is what happened today. When I spoke several students turned and mocked 1) that I was speaking 2) that I was speaking English and 3) that they couldn’t understand me in English. (Note, this is somehow a joke on me.)

At one point, the boy who had to change seats was talking with the people who got him in trouble. This led to a Level Seven Shut Up–this one goes to eleven–which led to laughter in three different classrooms down the hall. (Note: Teacher’s leave the doors and windows open because this is the time of year when it’s just warm and humid enough to need air conditioning but before the air conditioners are turned on.)

I kept plugging through the book and the plan until a student asked me a question in Japanese and I answered in English. It suddenly dawned on them that I might actually be able to understand them. This prompted another boy to mumble something about me speaking in Japanese. I reminded him he was at a top tier school and there were plenty of public schools he could go to if he wanted to speak Japanese.

At this point they were openly discussing the fact I could understand Japanese. They then tried to press to see if I’d speak Japanese. I shrugged and said my classes were always in English.

Then I told them to shut up and get back to work.


Rules at School and the Law at Home

Today, She Who Must Be Obeyed invoked school rules to explain why she’d confiscated our oldest’s Android tablet. I was prepared invoke my own rule that “when it becomes a problem Daddy makes the problem go away.” Unfortunately, I was already too late to make much of an impact other than point a finger and say “yeah, and don’t you forget it” at a teenager who wasn’t actually listening.

One of the things non-Japanese find difficult is the abundance of rules, both written and unwritten, involved with having a child in a Japanese school. These rules can be annoying and seem like interference in family affairs. (Which they are, sort of. You’ll see.)

For example, although there is no official curfew, students are expected to be home at a certain time. Parents take turns going out and policing parks and other popular hangouts to remind the kids it’s time to get home. If you gave permission for a child to stay out late, that gets around and you might hear about it at the next Parent/Teacher conference.

Since this week is mid-term exams at our oldest’s school, the powers what are at the school have asked students not to waste time on electronics until after the exams.

Although this seems like a good idea, I find it has a couple problems:

First, we’d already imposed our own ban. (More on that later.)

Second, the way the school suggestion is phrased, it allows for students to debate what the meaning of “is” is and argue that since they’ve studied a while they now get tablet time. Our oldest, for example, has interpreted the ban as allowing her to use her now neglected Nintendo 3DS and its limited internet access. (Her motto seems to be “No Twitter/No Life”. to which I respond with “Yeah, and don’t you forget it.”)

Third, once the exams are over the assumption is that the ban is over once and for all forever until the final exams. This, however, is false as our local ban will not be over.

Since our local ban will not be over–long story involving broken charging cords; stolen power cords; tablets stolen from She Who Must Be Obeyed; passwords on all our electronics; and Line calls from friends at 1:45 in the morning–we will almost certainly be involved in a fight over the appropriate amount of time allocated for tablet use.

In the end, though, I will make it all go away as I can simply change all the passwords. However, if the problem persists I’ll find a way to configure our wireless hub to accept only certain MAC codes and reject others (say, hypothetically, those on a certain teenager’s tablet and/or 3DS). I prefer this way because it allows me to turn access on and off without having to memorize a new password. (Enforcing rules, after all, shouldn’t be THAT inconvenient.)

And don’t you forget it.