Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Day Before the Week Before

Tomorrow is the last day of summer and I will be trapped part of the day. After that I’m going to meet some old friends for a beer or two. The day after that the slow grind to the grind begins.

The slow grind to the grind begins with trips to the school where I work to finalize plans for make-up exams. (Hopefully I get a better reaction than the last time I went.) The only problem with that is, no matter how it goes, it’s the company I work for that might have issues. I’ll have to write a report and send it in and then, depending on the mood of the recipient will have to field at least one email about schedule changes.

Wednesday will be spent writing the make-up exam (probably from the comfort/distraction of home) and another daily report will be required and if I haven’t yet received an email about schedule changes, the odds of getting one increases.

Thursday is the make-up exam. This goes one of two ways 1) the student arrives, writes the exam and I spend some time marking it and filling in forms, 2) the student doesn’t arrive and I have to wait the entire 50 minutes in case, 3) the student arrives late and rushes to finish the exam. I will fill in yet another report and almost certainly will get the email about schedule changes if I haven’t yet received it

Friday I have to go in and check the final mark (if I’ve made any changes). That involves showing up at work, waiting and checking. While I’m waiting I’ll be planning the next term and probably meeting with my colleagues about the schedule and curriculum. This part usually isn’t much of a grind as my colleagues are all pretty cool; it’s just that seeing each other reminds us that the grind is about to begin.

On Monday the actual grind begins. The slow grind to the grind isn’t that bad, it’s just the mindset it puts you in. The grind is coming.

That said, the worst part about the grind, for at least two weeks, is your legs suddenly getting used to standing on hard objects again. If you’ve had some part time classes during the summer this isn’t as big a deal. The main change is you go back to your old students and it’s very easy to fall back in the old ways.



That Which Must Not Be Answered

The other day She Who Must Be Obeyed walked into my home office (aka The Temple of Half-Finished Projects) and asked “Do you want to see a bunch of high school girls?”

My first reaction was a silent “It’s a trap!” followed by a quick scroll through my file of standard responses to traps “You look great.” “It looks beautiful.” “You look beautiful in everything.” “No, they make you look too sexy.” “I’m sorry, did you say something? Wow, your butt looks great in those jeans!”

Unfortunately none of the standard responses seemed suitable to the situation.

Then I realized I might be walking into a different trap. One of the things the Japanese do that sets foreigners on edge is ask questions that seem like traps. The classic example is:

Japanese Person: Are you doing anything this weekend?
Foreign Person: No, I’m just hanging out doing nothing until pay day.
Japanese Person: Do you want to help us set up for sports day this weekend?
Foreign Person: I’m sorry did you say something? Wow, your butt looks great in those jeans!

To the Western mind we’ve been set up and walked into a clever trap. Now that I’ve confided in you and given away any chance of saying I’m busy, you ask me if I want to do something. Damn you, trappy and clever Japanese person.

In truth, the Japanese person is doing the opposite. To their way of thinking, they are being courteous. They don’t want you to feel obligated to do something, especially if you are already doing something. If you’re not doing anything, then they offer you something to do. (I hope that makes sense.) (I also hope you realize it doesn’t make the situation that much less infuriating even if it does make sense.)

In the case of She Who Must Be Obeyed’s question I had to decide if it somehow involved our oldest who will be attending high school next year–she’s a 9th grader which, in Japan, is junior high school–or if it would somehow involve the reading group SWMBO volunteers with, which occasionally reads at schools. If I wasn’t careful, I could be turning down the chance to help her out with something.

Or, she could be walking me into a clever trap.

I opted for the latter and said “Of course not” and then added “unless it’s really, really necessary and I totally won’t take a camera.”

It turns out it did involve our daughter, who is visiting possible high schools. She Who Must Be Obeyed, I suspect, didn’t want to play escort and was trying to get me to do it. In the end, our oldest went with her friend and both of us got to stay home.

The funny part is that if I’d gone, I’d probably have had to take a camera.

The Autumn People in Summer

Shirley Jackson has a famous story called “The Summer People” about a couple who decide to stay in their summer home past the end of summer and find the town folks’ attitude toward them has changed in very sinister ways. That’s kind of how I felt today when I went to the school where I work.

I mostly stopped in to pick up a folder I needed so that I show up to work on time next week. I also used it as an excuse to get 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of walking in on a reasonably cool day. (This turned out to be a trap, but more on that later.)

When I got to the school I noticed that most of the lights were out and no students were roaming around. Since I was dressed business sub-casual this was probably for the best. I saw one teacher from a different department who was dressed up in a tie. He gave me a funny look. Then I saw a teacher from my department whose reaction was more like this:

Suddenly feeling a bit unnerved, and desperately trying not to fall asleep, I checked my mailbox and was surprised to find a stack of changes to my  high school class rolls.


In the office I said hello to two colleagues who reacted with little more than grunts and I had to put on glasses to make sure I wasn’t home talking to our oldest. (I wasn’t.)

I asked one of the colleagues if the changes meant that I had students going overseas and we then had a conversation that was straight out of a Samuel Beckett play where each of us was having a different conversation. He told me we don’t change high school classes, which was not what I’d asked because I already knew that which led to me asking about specific students which led to him reading the Japanese next to their names and telling me what it meant which I already knew which lead to me thanking him and going about my business.

When I left, I said a goodbye and didn’t even get a grunt.

In his defense, it was warm in the office as the cool weather has almost certainly led the school to set the air conditioner to “maintain humidity”. Although it was cool outside, it was muggy which made moving around and working less pleasant.

I’ll go back next week when it’s probably safe to do so. Until then, I’ll try to get some sleep.


Note: you can get the “The Summer People” and other stories here

The End of Summer Approacheth

Tomorrow, and few days next week, I’ll actually have to do things resembling actual work. This is both good and bad.

First, it lets me get out of the house on a regular, predictable basis which is not something I’ve been able to do this summer. (More on that someday.) Unfortunately, despite being able do that, I still won’t be able to finish the handful of projects I’d like to do that can only be completed by visiting places in other towns. (More on that someday, too; until then a few hints: knife makers, pen makers, Jesus and Moses.)

Second, because the girls are starting school, it will give me a couple actual days to myself. This is a vital thing for me, especially before the start of autumn term. Unfortunately, it’s not enough time to complete the projects in the previous paragraph as I still have to go into work a couple days and do some work at home.

Third, and perhaps most important, it gives me an actual excuse to put off the things I’ve been putting off which makes me feel better about putting them off. Nothing helps put you back in denial more than having a solid excuse to avoid doing something. If, for some reason, you have a day off from that excuse, well, you still can use it as an excuse because you don’t want to spend that day off, which you totally deserve, doing things that resemble work.

Lastly, it puts me back in a more stable rhythm. I go to bed at a regular time and get up at a regular time and have a regular(ish) morning routine. Unfortunately, after about a week or two, the old in-office rhythm sets in at work and I start getting little done.

Oddly, I then start looking forward to the holidays when I can get trapped in the house and put things off. I’m weird that way.


Customer Service in Various Forms and Speeds

Today is the story of two customer service experiences. One was oddly slow, one was surprisingly fast. One unfortunately necessary.

The Prodigal Knife Returneth
I’ve mentioned before the tale of The Phantom Knife and how I was dreading making an international call to find it. In the end, instead of calling, I made one last ditch effort to use the company’s website contact form. I kept my temper when writing (at least in my heart I believe I did) and whatever I wrote finally got a response.

They claimed they had some trouble with my email and had been trying to contact me. I do not believe this, but having been in Japan as long as I have, I didn’t make an issue of it and instead apologized for any trouble. They told me the old knife, a Benchmade Mini-Ambush couldn’t be replaced (it’s discontinued and they no longer make the parts for it) but they still would honor the lifetime guarantee and would be happy to send me the modern equivalent of that knife as a replacement if that was okay with me. I was like, well, um, I don’t, well, yes, that would be perfect.

A couple weeks later I received the replacement, a Benchmade Mini-Griptilian and it’s such a step up I almost feel guilty about accepting it (well, at least I would have if it hadn’t taken four months for them to answer an email). It’s already one of my favorite pocket knives. I like it better than my larger Griptilian (long story behind that one).

Once More Into The Mail
I’ve also mentioned before how the TWSBI Diamond 580 Black Rose Gold became my new workhorse pen and how I wasn’t a big fan of the TWSBI Mini, especially after having encountered two different quality issues with it.

Well, about a year after it was delivered and put to use, the new cap on my TWSBI Mini broke in almost identical fashion to the original one. (A crack around the top of the cap.) I emailed TWSBI about a possible replacement and they responded in about 20 minutes with assurances that a new cap would be sent. The next day the factory contacted me to let me know the new cap had already been sent.

None of this will cost me a single yen.

Blistering fast customer service, but it does pose a conundrum:

Is it better to have blistering fast customer service or is it better not to need it? (Answer: Yes.)

Although I still like the TWSBI 580 and, knock-on-wood, haven’t had any problems with it, I can’t recommend the TWSBI Mini for people looking to move up from cheap fountain pens or looking to try a smaller, more pocket friendly fountain pen. For the same money there are better choices.

As for me, I’ll probably clean the Mini up and try to sell it. At a used price, and with a brand new cap, I might be able to interest someone in it, at least for a year or so until the cap breaks again.


Out and About But Not Ready

The weather was cool again today which means I actually left the house. Before that two remarkable things happened 1) I shaved and 2) I showered. Unfortunately I didn’t fully wake up and was unable to complete all my chores.

I left the girls with specific yet reasonable instructions about what was to be accomplished while I was gone (She Who Must Be Obeyed was at work) and made a personal bet it wouldn’t get done.

The plan was to go one station away and do some shopping on a busy shopping street and while I was there see about getting my new glasses modified to bifocals and/or get a second pair for carrying around.

Unfortunately, as I arrived at the shop and started to look at back up frames, I realized I’d left all the information I needed to do what i wanted to do at home.

But it was cool so I was cool about all that.

Instead I headed farther down the shopping street to do some window shopping at one of the best department store pen shops in the area. (I didn’t buy anything.)

I would have done more than window shop except that my shopping list was with the information about my glasses. (Never, ever, ever leave stuff out where you won’t forget it. Stuff it in your bag and then spend an hour looking for it at home before you leave.)

Once again, it was cool so I was cool.

I had a meal at “Denny’s But Not Really”. (I call it this because, although it possesses both the name “Denny’s” and the Denny’s logo, it doesn’t have the Grand Slam breakfast or actual hamburgers and is therefore not real.) This decision gave me a long time to ponder life because it was a remarkably slow Denny’s.

After that, I headed a couple stops away for a haircut. I arrived and found the one barber I didn’t want–the place I go is first come, first served by first available barber–but I managed to explain what I wanted and, surprise of surprises, she actually cut my hair that way. (I attribute this to the cool air.)

Then I got home and won my bet that my specific yet reasonable instructions had not been followed and therefore nothing had been done.

That wasn’t quite as cool.

Get Cool Be Cool Stay Cool

Everybody in the house was surprisingly upbeat today. This means either drugs or pleasant weather was involved.

Today the temperature maxed out at 26 Celsius or 78.8 Fahrenheit. This is rare for August in Japan, especially with a typhoon on the way. Typhoons usually announce their presence with humidity levels reaching liquid and temperatures approaching “acetylene torch”. (Scorched Earth temperatures and lack of all hope are usually achieved after the typhoon passes.)

Because of the cool weather, we were able to leave the windows open and the air conditioner off. Luckily, the cool breeze lasted all day and I actually found rereading and marking up my latest typescript to be pleasant. (This may actually mean that drugs are involved and I’ve just blacked out on what I took.) Stuff I was worried about actually works better than I remembered and stuff that I cut turned out to be good cuts. All of it is currently out of order but that’s because I was adding stuff in a frenzy as it came to me.

It still needs to be 20,000 words longer but today that didn’t bother me. (Yep, drugs.)

The girls didn’t fight much (except for one small morning battle between the 10 year old the “29 year old” about continuing rhythmic gymnastics lessons). Later, I even managed to do some exercise. (More on that in another post.)

Tomorrow promises to be even cooler, which means I may have to get on the computer and start doing the actual rewrite of the book while adding 20,000 words still seems manageable (that’s about 80-100 pages depending on how you count the words and how much dialogue I use).

First, though, I’ll test things out in the morning by telling one of the girls to do dishes. If she doesn’t argue much I’ll check her stuff for drugs and then sit down and start working. Hopefully with the window open.


Piles and Piles of Piles and Piles

Free stuff is overwhelming my desk. It’s created a level of clutter that’s actually begun to mess with my brain. I could solve this problem rather easily, but I’m not actually ready to review any of the stuff.

One of the curses of getting free stuff and then deciding to do long term use reviews of it all is that 1) you have to use the stuff, 2) you have to use the stuff a lot, 3) you can’t use all the stuff at once, and 4) you have to leave the stuff out where you can see it so you don’t forget to use it.

Because of this, both sides of my desk are currently occupied by clutter. The left side has a stack of notebooks, most of which I got at the ISOT and a few I bought because I saw them at the ISOT. The right side has pens, most of which come from the ISOT, but a couple that I bought have bled over to the left side.

The two piles merged into one giant pile of clutter.

The two piles merged into one giant pile of clutter.

To test the pens, as I’ve mentioned before, I write morning pages and random notes with them so I can see what happens to my writing hand if I use the pen a lot. I also use different kinds of paper to see what happens to the pen and the ink on expensive paper, ordinary copy paper, and reused paper. I carry them around to see how well they handle travel and abuse.

With the notebooks, I test them with different fountain pens and different kinds of ink to see how much they show or bleed through. The problem with this is I then have to keep them out on the desk so I can remember to take pictures of the results. Taking pictures involves other steps that get put off.

I’m also pondering a way to test durability by carrying the notebooks around for no reason and writing in each one every day to see how well the spines hold up.

But, that’s a future plan. Until then there are just the piles and the possibilities.

Written and Rewritten

Fewer things freak me out more than the thought of rereading something I wrote months ago, especially when I’ve been deliberately avoiding it.

First I have to describe my writing process: The initial stages involve fear, denial, distraction, more distraction, denial, British detective dramas and more denial. Once I pass those stages I actually manage to write something. I wrote the bulk of this particular work during last year’s National Novel Writing Month. Then, as is my usual procedure, I set it aside (i.e. didn’t print it out and didn’t look at it) for a few months. The theory is that when I finally read it again, I’ll have a fresh eyes and be able to look at it objectively and kill my darlings as necessary.

The problem is, with this work, which I printed last April, I read the first chapter and was overwhelmed with a mix of fear and disgust and doubt. The opening’s not bad as it is, it’s just the demands of the opening and the best way to present the necessary information all jammed together in one fit of panic. The other problem is that the typescript is too short to be marketable and I have to figure out how to add 20,000 or so words to it rather than figure out how to cut words from it.

With all this going on in my head, the typescript sat on my “to do/avoid” pile for a few weeks before I finally filed it away until I “had more time”. Then, this summer, when I actually had more time, I continued to avoid it until yesterday.

Because I had an unusual fear of the manuscript, I decided to try a different technique this time. Rather than reading it with a pen in hand, I would just read it like a book and then, if something bothered me, would track down a pen and mark the typescript.

This has worked pretty well. I can tell which parts need some work and have marked a few spots with purple ink and noticed which places seem to happen to quickly and which were just crap.

I also noticed which parts seemed pretty good. Those are the parts that scare me the most and I’ll have to give them extra scrutiny when I got through all this again some day.


Something I Can Do Even When I’m Not Prepared

When I was at the in-laws last week I had one of those chances you get every now and then to prove yourself either worthy or completely useless. The legitimacy of one of my hobbies was also involved.

I’ve mentioned before how the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 indirectly rekindled my interest in knives. Because of this one of the things I notice, especially at the in-laws, is the knives people use at home.

What I noticed about my in-laws’ knives wasn’t that positive

They have a couple Usaba-style knives that looked as if they’d been left out in a field for a couple months. They were rusted (common with the carbon steel in the blades) and were dull. Oddly, one of them was chipped badly enough that it kind of, sort of worked as a bread knife, if you didn’t mind a glaze of rust on your toast.

In the past I’ve mentioned to She Who Must Be Obeyed that “next time we visit” I’d bring some cleaning stuff and a couple sharpening stones and fix up the knives for them. Every “next time” though, we’d always set off without the stones and, except for a couple “next time” promises, I never got a chance to work on the knives.

This time, though, Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed complained enough that She Who Must Be Obeyed mentioned my promise to her.

Because of that mention, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a  “put up or shut up” moment. The conversation went something like:

SWMBO: Can you sharpen these knives?
Me: Um, er, uh, yeah, sure.
SWMBO: Put up or shut up.
Me: Um, er, uh, yeah, sure.

A couple diamond sharpening steels suddenly appeared. They were about as badly designed as possible for the job at hand. The had six inch steels that were shaped like daggers. They were flat on one side and round on the other and were clearly intended for mower blades and oddly shaped tools. They were not intended for 7 inch blades.

However, because I was trapped, and had an audience, I had to perform which meant the dagger-shaped steels were perfect. They had rubber grips, though, which mean I had to hold them with one hand and sharpen the blades with the other. The tricky part was keeping the blades at the proper angle on steels without cutting off parts of my own body. (Which would at least prove how sharp the knives were.)

In the end, I took steel wool and cleaning powder to the blades to clean off the rust. I removed as much of the chipped edge as possible and got the edges where they could at least cut paper and not just rip it to shreds.

Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed reported the knives were very good and gave me a compliment for doing a good job.

The problem is, now I’ll have to do it again next time I’m at their house. Now that they know what I can do, they’ll expect me to do it.