Monthly Archives: March 2015

My Daily Log Book is Not My Blog

When I want to, I can draw. I can also have neat penmanship when I want to. The trouble is, most of the time I just can’t be bothered.

As I’ve written before, I’ve had the same problem with keeping a daily diary. I’ve started valiantly many times but then slowly but surely abandoned the daily entries and, inevitably, abandoned the notebook with at least one third of the pages empty.

This year, as a way to try something different (last year’s project was this blog) and to use up thick notebooks that no longer interest me, I’ve decided to keep a daily log.

The difference between the log and a diary is that rather than writing a summary of the day when I’m too tired to care, a log is filled in throughout the day. I keep track of the weather, work, my various layers of crankiness and all my meals.

Every now and then I have an actual accomplishment to record.

I also like the log because it gives me an excuse to keep several pens inked and actually have an excuse to use them. It also gives me an excuse to use a Muji notebook I’ve had in storage for a few years.

To make the log different than anything I’ve done before, I’ve decided to sketch out the weather as silly cartoons.

More interesting than an actual weather report.

More interesting than an actual weather report.

The little cartoons aren’t great and my handwriting, especially if I don’t support the thin side enough, is worse. Still, it’s a lot of fun and it helps get a notebook that I know I wouldn’t use otherwise out of storage and into use.

There is a problem with bleedthrough on the Muji paper, but I learned to embrace that a long time ago. I even found a philosophical way to justify it:

The words in the cloud seem more profound than they really are.

The words in the cloud seem more profound than they really are. Chicken rice is the proof of that.

The log is still a work in progress and I’m going to add more sketches as I go along. Lately I’ve also been adding a short summary of the day at the end.

The problem is, once I’m done, the notebook will go into a different storage area. But at least it will have been used.

Pride Goeth Before the Sprain

In my defense, the kick looked really good right up until things fell apart.

Yesterday I described how I’d sprained my knee by letting over-confidence become no confidence become pain. That all happened at the end of 2001 and I spent the next couple months limping around on a sore left knee. Finally, my knee healed but I’d gained a lot of weight and felt well, I believe the technical term is “blah”. I decided I should start studying karate again. I contacted my karate sensei from Niigata and he put me in touch with a sensei near where I lived.

The dojo was small, basically sensei, another student and me. I got a lot of personal training that way and picked things back up pretty quickly and my confidence returned.

Then, sometime in mid-2002 we got another student, let’s call him Mr. O. The day he started I had to show him a few things like basic punches and kicks, and then watched while my advice was corrected by my sensei. Then we did katas, one of which put lots of stress on my knees.

However, because I was no longer the new guy, I had a burst of confidence that gave way to over-confidence. Eventually, I was told to move off to the side and practice on my own while sensei worked with Mr. O. I took the opportunity to practice kicks.

After several basic kicks, I started working on my high mawashi-geri kicks. The first few, with my left leg, looked good–at the time I could have kicked someone my height in the head–as did the first couple with my right leg. On my third or fourth high kick, my left knee twisted, made a sickening “crunch” sound and gave way. I ended up on the floor swearing at myself for being stupid. (Thinking about that sound and feeling still makes me cringe.)

I sat out the rest of the lesson.

However, me being stupid, I never bothered to go to the hospital to get things checked out. I also stayed in karate for another 13 years which didn’t help my knees much. in my defense, the knee mostly healed but has become a classic “trick knee” that occasionally gives me fits.

I ended up retiring from karate for a while until I can get my knees checked out and worked on. Since I stopped doing karate, my knees have felt great and I haven’t felt the need to rush to the hospital.

But that could just be over-confidence and we know where that leads.

A Sudden Failure of Will and Skill

The only thing more dangerous than over-confidence is over-confidence followed by the complete and utter failure of confidence.

I’ve mentioned before that I sprained my knee while skiing but I just realized (as I desperately search for a topic) that I’ve never described how that happened.

The ski resort in Nou-Machi has, whether they admit it or not, three runs: the meandering beginners’ course (that includes a couple non-beginner turns); the intermediate course and the “So, you think you’re a good skiier, eh?” course. (SYTYAGS, eh? That’s a technical term.)

The resort had been hit with a lot of snow which had left the SYTYAGS, eh? course covered in powder. After skiing a while on the easier courses, I decided to try the SYTYAGS, eh? course.

At first I did well. Powder skiing isn’t that hard, and I’d had lessons, but there’s a psychological tension when you can’t see the tips of your skis, especially when you’ve crossed them a couple times and left a number of impressive divots in the snow. Matters were also complicated by the fact it was still snowing heavily, taking away nearly all depth of field and making it hard to see the course’s surprises until it was too late to avoid them.

Eventually, I hit the hardest part of the course and started thinking about finding the “escape route” off to the right. Unfortunately, because of the snow, I couldn’t see where it was. At that point, over-confidence gave way to no confidence and I tried to finesse a part of the course I should have attacked. That led to crossed tips, a slide and my left knee doing an impressive pop as my skis stuck but the rest of me kept sliding. (My boots didn’t pop the bindings.)

Right away I knew something was wrong. (That “pain thing” is usually a big hint.) I managed to get my skis off and make a cross and a kind gentleman with a cellphone called for help. I then got to meet the ski patrol and ride down the hill in the coffin/covered sled. I was then picked up and taken to the hospital by She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Unfortunately, I chose to injure myself on December 30th and the hospital was running on a skeleton staff. (There were so few people working we couldn’t even pay when everything was finished.) My doctor, who looked only slightly older than 12 years old, told me all they could do for me was x-ray my leg to make sure nothing was broken. (Nothing was.)

Eventually my knee healed, but not before I put on lots of weight. (I’m still fairly heavy, but I used to be much heavier.)

Of course, a month after my knee healed I reinjured it showing off in karate. (But that’s another post.)


On Speeches and Thieves and Recyclers

One of my colleagues is convinced the speech he heard today was the same one a student gave in his class last year.

Before that, I discovered I had a thief.

Every year the school where I work puts on a speech contest for high school students. Oddly, the topics haven’t changed in 15 years. The first year students (10th graders) speak about their dream or future vision, the second year students (11th graders) appeal to someone or something to change something or the other.

The responsibility for assigning, editing, and choosing the speakers falls to us, the foreign staff. It’s such a complicated process that it eats up three to four weeks of class time (each class meets only twice each week).

Early on in the process, one of my students presented a speech that was so good I was pretty sure he either didn’t write it or had received a great deal of outside “input” in writing it. Usually when this happens, the foreign staff start asking around “Did you get a good speech about XYZ?” When we discover two students with the same speech we conduct a version of the Prisoners’ Dilemma. We explain to the students “Someone gets a zero. If neither of you confesses, you both get zeroes.”

However, when my student actually stood up and gave his speech, he’d changed his topic to a fairly weak speech on a different topic. I didn’t think much of it until one of my colleagues told me one of the students he’d chosen to go to the contest wanted to change his speech topic. The student admitted that it had been copied by someone else. Turns out it was my student. The original speech had been copied. Or at least each was blaming the other for copying it.

What I think happened is my student, who usually doesn’t write anything, “acquired” a copy of the other student’s speech and presented as it his own but then chickened out and actually wrote one (or there’s another copy of the second speech roaming around somewhere).

Either way, he got a zero.

Then, today, one of the students in the contest gave a loud, energetic speech. After the contest,  my colleague and fellow judge said that was the same speech the kid gave last year in class for his “My Dream or Future Vision” speech.

It’s too late to give him a zero, though.

The Unplanned Party is Fun and Annoying

Today was as close to a riot as I’ve ever seen a Japanese party get. It actually made we wish I’d drunk more.

First, although it was a farewell party, it was at a casual izakaya, rather than a more formal version of an izakaya which are typically dark and moody and expensive. This izakaya, though, was an unofficial hangout for the foreign staff. It was brightly lit, busy and had cheap beer: 190 yen (US $1.57) for a mug rather than the usual 500 yen (US $4.12) for the same size.

The reaction from the Japanese staff as they arrived was to look around and go “Here? Really?”

Second, we were actually in two rooms that formed an L. At least part of us would be at the little kids’ table.

Third, I couldn’t drink much because tomorrow I’m head judge at the high school speech contest and I have to 1) stay awake and 2) be coherent for at least one minute.

Fourth, there was no set menu. Usually Japanese parties are seven course affairs with various forms of salad and meat and things that are unrecognizable but usually pretty tasty. The courses arrive in waves and you find yourself (if you actually have an appetite) hoping the next dish arrives quickly. I usually grab a couple cheeseburgers at McDonald’s before I go to a Japanese party just to tide me over until enough food arrives to tide me over.

This time, though, everyone started ordering from the menu which led to the first problem that began to turn the group against itself: the izakaya was unusually slow. Some of us had been there before when it was busy but they were always diligent about getting food out. However, this time, when food finally arrived it was only half of what had been ordered.

The effect of this was that food would arrive on one half of the table and the people on that half would refuse to share with the other half who watched with longing and resentment. We also started ordering table by table rather than for the group. People didn’t get up and move to other tables to talk to the five people who were leaving. The kids table actually ended up being the youngest teachers and they had a noisy good time, although I kept pointing at them and saying “I told you kids to keep it down” and “You don’t want me to come in there.” (The latter was technically true.)

I was fascinated by it all because I’ve never been at a formal Japanese party that actually felt like a party. I only had two beers though, which meant I didn’t party much.


Smokin’ and Drinkin’ and Chillin’

I spent most of the evening today smoking at a place called Chillin’.

I ended up there because today was the first of two consecutive farewell parties for the same people. Tomorrow is the official English Department farewell party but today we had the unofficial “foreigners in the department” farewell party.

Our original plan was to meet in Tokyo and go to an Irish pub because that’s what you do when you’re in Tokyo, especially if you’ve lived in Japan a long time. One of my colleagues, though suggested we go to a shisha bar called Chillin’ and smoke a couple bowls before going to the pub.

I was skeptical. The only hookah I’ve ever smoked involved “beneficial herbs that are now legal in Colorado” (a technical term) and I didn’t imagine sitting around in a haze of smoke would be very interesting without that “beneficial herb”. I thought about arriving later, when we went to the pub but ended up deciding to give the shisha bar a try. I did, however, mention that I probably wouldn’t enjoy spending the the entire evening there.

That, of course, is exactly what we did.

First we bought beer and snacks at a nearby convenience store and were disturbed to the find the bar closed in the early afternoon. We then decided to walk around and drink our beers before they got warm. (Note: walking around drinking alcohol is legal in Japan.)

Eventually we returned and the place opened and there were already people sitting around smoking.  We ordered our tobacco: Blue Mist, Spicy Chai Latte and Aloha which, now that I think about it, sound kind of like strippers’ names. I was immediately surprised by how smooth it was and how unlike a cigar, pipe or cigarette it tasted.

We were so relaxed and had such a good time we ended up staying for five hours. Eventually we sent people out for provisions (chicken, chips and beer) and we ordered more tobacco: Chocolate Cocoa; Blueberry and Licorice (which sound like desserts, not strippers). The Licorice was the best, although the Chocolate Cocoa had its moments.

There was a good crowd of Japanese and foreigners and everyone sampled everyone else’s tobacco. (We all had our own plastic mouth piece that we stuck on the hose when we smoked. This led to us trying to explain to the Japanese university students next to us what licorice was. This proved difficult as I’ve never seen black licorice sold in Japan.

Although we had a good time, we couldn’t escape the feeling that we were in the shisha bar version of Starbucks coffee. I don’t know if I’ll go back. Then again, I didn’t actually want to go in the first place so anything is possible.



In With the New; Now What With the Old?

I have a problem with notebooks.

As problems go, a notebook problem is not a huge problem, but it’s still a problem.

All though I tend to prefer to write things down as it gives me an excuse to buy pens, one of the problems I have with analogue notebooks is that once I finish them I still have them.

I then have the problem about what to do with them.

I have this problem with books too, but I rarely have to go back through a book and decipher my handwriting. Although, in all fairness, there are some cryptic notes in the handful of textbooks I kept. For example: LitCrit; B.S. P.H.D; and 8 Wombats Live. The first, I think, was a comment on a character’s comment that sounded like something from literary criticism; the second was my reaction to someone’s literary criticism (the P.H.D. means “Piled Higher and Deeper” you can guess what B.S. means); and the latter I think must have been some graffiti I saw somewhere and then scribbled in the margin of the book. Or it’s a band name I thought of. Or it’s an actual band. I don’t remember.

With books though, as long as I’ve not marked them up too heavily, I can always sell them off or give them away. With notebooks, though, I have to find a way to save the few snippets that I wrote down that are actually worth saving. I can photograph them and upload them to Evernote but that still leaves me the problem of finding stuff on my computer or on my phone whilst hoping the batteries don’t run out. Even searchable storage reaches a critical mass of “that’s too much mass” to be useful.

I can also transcribe the notes into a computer but that means I have to come face to face with my handwriting.Then there’s still the problem of critical mass and easy searching.

That, however, isn’t as bad as what I actually find in my notebooks, especially the thicker ones I’ve kept around for years. There are the false profundities scribbled haphazardly during a commute. There are also the moments that seemed like a really good idea but I don’t remember where I was going with them. For example “I can’t believe I’m here writing for the sole purpose of making a mess” seems like a really catchy opening line, for something. As is “The disaster is now the backdrop. The people only props” which I think I wrote after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The trouble is I didn’t date it or add any context.

Lately I’ve been doing daily or weekly transcriptions. This lets me enter the material while it’s still fresh, but that can steal time from real work.

Then there’s the final problem: throwing the notebooks out or storing them. I’d prefer to store them, as thumbing through the old notes can be inspiring, but storing them requires space. Now that I’m using smaller notebooks, it’s easier to transcribe them and throw them out, but there’s still a part of me that thinks I might need that someday.

Musgoes and Super Simple Complications

I’m in the mood to talk about food because today we had some of my favorite foods for lunch and supper. Most of them, though, were made sometime last week.

With the possible exception of having popcorn for supper, my favorite foods to have for supper on weekends are usually leftovers. I don’t know why this is. I also don’t know why one of the few phrases my mother used that’s stuck with me is “musgoes”. There was also some mention of washing something after supper and putting something away and cleaning some place or another that I used to sleep in. I was also supposed to make something, but none of that is as important as food.

Because I like the phrase “musgoes” I’ve now exported it to Japan and have She Who Must Be Obeyed saying it, too. Today was actually the perfect day for musgoes. I’m cleaning the office after the neglect induced by the end of the school year and exam marking; our oldest was at club; She Who Must Be Obeyed was running our youngest around to something called “Mini Kawagoe” which is an occasional event where kids get to try out “job simulators” and pretend they are firefighters and police officers and the guy who runs the cash register at the convenience store and lets his friends by beer and cigarettes. (Something like that.)

She Who Must Be Obeyed came home after passing our youngest off on her friends and her friend’s mother and declared we were having musgoes for lunch. This was not, technically, the way things were supposed to be–musgoes for lunch are properly served on Sunday– but it was delicious, even though it involved several types of carbohydrates.

Then, for supper, none of us were really hungry. I opted for my other favorite phrase “Super Simple Supper” which, to me, involves the purchase of pre-made food. She Who Must Be Obeyed went shopping and came back with some chicken and some sashimi.

Unfortunately, it turned out there was also rice to be finished, so the Super Simple Supper turned into a bowl of fish on rice. it was delicious but it wasn’t super simple. It also involved too many of those things I was supposed to wash and or put way sometime or once.

Maybe our oldest remembers. I’ll have her wash that stuff.

Lots of Pens Without Much Passion

A cute Japanese lady almost convinced me to buy a pen, but I told her I couldn’t.

Actually I said I’d have to think about it and then asked if they’d still be around on Monday.

Today was the 16th Mitsukoshi Fountain Pen Festival at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Downtown Tokyo. (It’s two blocks from where the Maruzen World Fountain Pen Fair took place last week.)

Last year when I went I was underwhelmed at what I found. Today I was only slightly more whelmed.

Today was helped by the presence three of Japans’ small fountain pen makers: Nakaya, Ohashido and Eboya (more on them later). I also like that the Mitsukoshi Festival has a table with racks of pens visitors are welcome to try. Piles of notebooks are also provided although, being a writer and a proper addict, I brought my own.

Try it, you'll like it. (Then you'll want to buy it.)

Try it, you’ll like it. Then you’ll want to buy it. (I spent a lot of time here trying and rejecting rationalizations.)

Mr. Yoshida of Nakaya was there fixing nibs and I was actually able to get get close enough to the table to handle some of the pens. However, She Who Must Be Obeyed apparently put a curse on me before I left the house because each Nakaya I touched burned my skin and I heard the Devil’s voice telling me I was going to burn and that forever was a very long time.

I also got a chance to try out Eboya pens. They specialize in pens made from ebonite. I impressed and scared them when I showed my Edison Glenmont LE. I was impressed with the Eboya and they are now on the possibles list.  I was disappointed, though, that they use Peter Bock nibs rather than manufacturing their own.

Two ebonite pens from Eboya. The force is strong in these two.

Two ebonite pens from Eboya. The force is strong in these two, but I don’t like the gold band on the cap.

The problem with the show is a problem that seems to apply to all Japanese pen shows: they are run for the stores and not for the enthusiasts. The Mitsukoshi fair had a terrific selection of pens, but most of the counters were run by Mitsukoshi clerks. Mitsukoshi, for those who don’t know, is similar to Harrods in London and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. It’s for people with money and not the unwashed saving up to buy a Nakaya.

As such, there are no small stores selling pens, no vintage pens, and no fountain pen peripherals for sale. Although Mitsukoshi has a stationery section, there are no pen cases or pen cleaning items for sale. There’s also very little or ink, except that produced by one of the big pen companies. Sailor’s ink mixing master usually makes an appearance at the show, but he wasn’t there today.

Each company provides their own pen repair expert, but only at certain times on certain days. It’s all very serious and there’s also not a lot of charm or passion.

Th Pilot Pens section. The man in the front is repairing pens.

The Pilot Pens section. The man in the front is repairing pens. There’s not much passion on display here.

For example, Pelikan had an impressive display where visitors could try pens of different sizes with different nibs. It looked cool and after playing with the larger pens, I asked if I could take a picture. The clerk half scoffed/half sneered a “no you can’t take a picture.” I walked away saying that I didn’t realize that “Pelikan” was German for “asshole”. I may have to work that into my vocabulary: “Watch where you’re walking, Pelikan,” “Hey, Pelikan, stop trying to cut in line,” or “Hey, Pelikan, let me take a picture of your pen display.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever go again. That’s a lie. I’ll be there again next year.

Good Things Come in Threes a Bunch at a Time

I’m trying to figure out if I bought some notebooks or a bunch of Beanie Babies.

First you have to understand how particular I am about notebooks and how the internet creates odd groups and fads.

As a writer I’ve worked my way through different types of notebooks depending on whatever phase/pretension I was in the middle of. I also always had problems with every notebook I ever had. There were those that were too precious, those that had spiral binding and those that were too thick. The latter were especially a problem as I’d soon get tired of carrying the large notebooks and start leaving them at home. Looking back at those I still have, I doubt I ever used every page of one.

Several years ago I stumbled across a line of notebooks called Moleskine. They were, at the time, fairly expensive, even for Japan but were pocket sized and well made. They also included a built in bookmark, a storage pocket, and an elastic band that held them shut. I bought a couple and then, when I got home, discovered in the storage pocket a little card that explained the history of the Moleskines. It involved Picasso and Hemingway and was such bullshit that I actually felt as if I’d been duped buying the notebooks.

Eventually, I worked my way through one book and started using the other. Of course, me being me, I cut out the bookmark (it’s annoying) and ripped out the elastic closure (also annoying). I won’t buy anymore because 1) they are now absurdly expensive, especially for Japan; 2) they aren’t that good; 3) despite not being very good they’ve remained too trendy; and 4) despite being trendy, no one can agree on how to pronounce their name (Moleskin; Moleskeen; or MolaSkeena). The latter is apparently the most accurate, but it’s too pompous to be taken seriously. It’s like going to Starbucks and using an Italian accent to order a frappuccino.

Instead I’ve recently been a convert to Field Notes. Field Notes are pocked sized journals with 48 pages (usually). I’ve already found them more convenient than the thicker Moleeseekineikies (or however you say it). They are easier to carry and it’s easier to find the notes you made. I’ve already finished a book and have stocked up on a few extra. I even, as part of the tithing I’ve mentioned before, subscribed to their annual limited editions.

The problem with Field Notes, though, is those limited editions (called COLORS). Basically every three months the masterminds behind the Chicago based Field Notes put out a special edition to subscribers. Each set comes in a pack of three notebooks and there is violence involved with people who throw away the band that holds them together (more on that later). Each subscriber receives two packs of the special edition and two packs of the company’s generic notebooks.

They started out with simple colors but have since been embossed, enlarged, waterproofed, clad in wood and even given out at random in sealed boxes. The newest versions have been wood type printed at a museum in Wisconsin and part of every sale goes to the support the museum.

The problem is the community that’s grown up around Field Notes can be both exciting and kind of scary. Some of the early limited editions can sell for hundreds of dollars if they are still in their sealed three pack. Serious collectors trade and deal to get complete sets (as of yesterday there are 26 limited “COLORS” editions). They also try to acquire custom versions made for businesses and conventions. Even the paper bands that hold them together have become collectible.

A few months ago Brad Dowdy of the Pen Addict opened a rare set and started using it. The reaction surprised him and he kept pointing out that he got them to use not to resell. It might have a high value now, but he bought it to use and because he liked the color. (Rather than freaking out, the collectors should have thanked him for increasing the value of their holdings.)

A few weeks ago I ordered a couple sets of a version called “America The Beautiful” from a store here in Japan. The day after my order was confirmed, the store, having apparently dealt with serious collectors before, contacted me to tell me that one of the sets had accidentally been opened and the decal lost. (Some of the sets come with extras.) If I wanted to cancel my order they understood. I didn’t cancel and they threw in a free set of a different, less popular COLORS edition.

What it reminds me the most of, at this point, is the Beanie Babies craze. That bubble cost people lots of money and even a couple lives. The best thing about the notebooks is that even if there’s a collapse, the collector at least has something they can actually use.

As for me, I’m not that interested in the collecting, especially as I tend to abandon collections after a certain point. That said, if someone wants to send me lots money for anything I own, I’ll be happy to ship it to you.

This stuff might get someone killed.

This stuff might get someone killed.