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Below are the 25 most recent journal entries.

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  2020.01.03  17.44
(Sticky Top Post) Commenting

People without journals can still comment - however:

I screen all comments that come from both anonymous and non-friended IJ accounts. That will mean if you comment here, your comment will not be immediately visible. I unscreen these by hand (or nuke them, if they turn out to be spam).

Friends - those journal accounts nominated as my friends here - should see their comments immediately after posting. I don't yet see when screening them will be necessary, but the future is a long time to say "never". If there's a problem, let me know.

Thanks!

 
 


 
  2015.03.11  09.33
On This Day

I love these lists - and just (re)discovered the feature of Wikipedia that collects happenings on specific dates.

What's interesting is what I do or don't feel a connection to. Something that's happened in 1977, although I was nominally aware of the wider world at the time, doesn't quite make the same ripples in my mind as either more recent history (thinking specifically of the attacks on Spanish commuters in 2004, or the Tohoku Earthquake aka the Sendai earthquake only 4 years ago) or moments in the historical record that have gained a specific personal meaning.

Like you'd probably not realize that today in 1879, the final king of the Ryūkyū Kingdom abdicated to the Japanese government. It makes sense that you wouldn't, if you don't already have a very active interest in Japanese history.

Wikipedia gives today in 1918 as the start of the world-wide epidemic of the Spanish flu. This got onto my mental map long before the current worries of bird flu and ebola - mostly from descriptions that reached my ears via the children of people who had direct experience of that time. I was at an impressionable age, so those descriptions of just how widespread this illness was got filed next to those I was reading about in history books about the black death in the Middle Ages. It wasn't so much that I believed it would never happen - I had no foundation on which to base such a conclusion - but that I had no experience of my own with which I could flesh out the bare word-bones of those stories.

 
 


 
  2015.01.28  11.17
Bitter, to bitter-sweet, to sweetness

Yesterday, walking the last bit of my journey to the aikido dojo, I was on a bit of a downer.

Causes were the usual piles of crap one's life can contain. External causes were like the stupid things people do in crowded spaces like busses. Some internal causes, too, like my un-operated foot aching in a way that promised difficulties for the coming lesson.

I sighed getting off the bus, dodging people who would disembark then STOP - leaving no room for passengers behind them. Once a little clear, I drew out the long handle of my rolling case - functioning as my sport bag while I'm still babying an unhappy shoulder. I felt a grumpy envy as I thought about one of my teachers of aikido - a dynamic man who was somewhere just past middle age. Fifth or sixth dan black belt, if memory serves. I ruefully reflected that he probably got started with his involvement in the martial arts a good 15 - 20 years earlier in his life than I did in mine; I don't reckon my chances of ever gaining even my first dan of a black belt as very high, a thought that was contributing to my sadness-tinged grumpiness.

My first learned response to "bad" emotions was to try and repress them. Someone was always made uncomfortable by the sight of a child's expressions of unhappiness. Even these days, when I often hear there is too much "permissiveness" and "feel-good-ism" and that we should all return to sucking it up as our grandparents were supposed to have done,... well, that just tells me that we've probably not got nearly enough permission to honestly experience our own selves as such criticisms pretend we do. But, walking in the early winter evening darkness, I decided to just let envy be okay. Really feeling its weight, the texture of its longing for the impossible, the bitter-chocolate pungency. I envied my teacher's accomplishments. His obvious talents. His beautiful, effective technique in aikido. The way he got to travel places to teach, and interact with a wide variety of people.

I'm really past the age where I would even be able to hope for such a life, although I can freely admit I have a mostly good life here. My envy was slowly shifting its state, as ice would melt to water - a feeling of bitter-sweet poignancy, that maybe I couldn't really plan to do such things anymore, but I still enjoyed seeing them done by someone else.

Not only that, but - I realized in a kind of flash, I was maybe envious, but that came from a capacity to admire, to look up to people for their qualities. It was another state-change, this time from water to gas, as quick as the glimpse of a falling-star, or the trajectory of the International Space Station trundling along in its orbit, visible as a star-of-hope-wonder-and-accomplishment for the brief moment of visibility in the night sky.

I was smiling broadly by the time my steps brought me through the crowds around the station - I was happy! I had rediscovered that I had the capacity to look up to people, to admire points about them, things I could admit I wanted for myself, even if I wasn't always going to get them. I could still enjoy them. More than one passer-by smiled back, as our eyes met briefly before we each continued on our ways.

I was chuckling to myself by the time I got to the dojo - to get to happy, it had been completely necessary to first own my envy. And for that, too, I am grateful.

 
 


 
  2015.01.03  16.42
First Training of the Year

I'm full of good hope for this year, after the last couple with their difficulties. Particularly for aikido - I'm in danger of broadcasting some of my wishes too widely, so I'll have to stay good about checking in with my body, making sure that healing progresses to well-grounded good condition.

Didn't do too badly getting to the dojo on time, although my local stop wasn't being serviced - something I didn't discover until after I'd hauled my carcass and sports bag to it. Luckily, by now I have my plan, and a bus came up to my alternative stop just as I was arriving. (Too bad that this is less a proof of quality in the organization than pure dumb luck - the Flemish bus company have made cut-backs, some in the guise of "improvements", and now if I say that it's a better service than Ireland, or the Midwest US, I can no longer dodge accusations of damning with faint praise...)

We were a cozy little club today, and very heavy on the yūdansha, or black belts. So our sensei gave us a nice mix of semi-basic and puzzles - starting with a grip to the shoulder, katadori, and later some attacks based on being grabbed by the shoulder and the uke (who is your attacker, but because we're always working on neutralizing attacks, uke is the one who receives) trying to hit the partner's face - katadori menuchi. I was taught this one way by my sensei in Dublin - in a bar fight, some bloke grabs you by the shoulder, and uses the other hand to whack your head with a beer bottle. But here, today, the student teaching ("student" being a 2nd dan or 3rd dan, I'll have to check that!) us this pointed out the strike to the face was something coming from below.

Not sure about that just yet. The counter we're taught for katadori menuchi has the tori (the defender) block the incoming strike by lifting the same arm of which uke has just grabbed the shoulder. On the other hand, a point to watch also when I get to workshops (or, "stages", pronounced like the French - STAH-zhəs).

The first technique was probably a kōkyū nage, or a "breath-throw". (No, that does not mean one ate garlic the night before.) The throw is basically timed with tori exhaling, and having prepared that throw while inhaling, as if to gather not only one's own ki (energy) but also that of the attacker. The beginning with a shoulder grab is elegant simplicity - for tori, who just lifts the arm that uke just grabbed the shoulder of, and winds it around from the outside, while also turning away from uke. That's more or less put the hand uke just tried to use to grab your shoulder into a nasty little pin - I'm supposing the testy evil grandmother of aikido would have broken the elbow before that point, but these days we move slow enough that uke avoids this by letting the attacking arm bend - there are also enough other things to worry about, as the turn-away from tori is dragging uke merrily along, until tori is satisfied that uke is no longer able to balance. Then the tori extends the arm across the path of uke, at about chin-hight. "Clothesline time", if it's very fast.

Oh, we'd started with something before that - sodedori or an attack of grabbing the sleeve, at around elbow height. That one is also simple, and deceptive: it's too easy to let oneself, as tori, to allow the grabbed arm to be pulled behind oneself while turning. I must do better at that. When it works, correctly, uke grabs the sleeve at the elbow and is then off to the races as tori simply pivots in place, causing the arm uke has used to grab with to stretch and hyper-extend across tori's back. Until tori quickly reverses and using the arms in a technique not unlike the tenchi nage, or heaven-and-earth throw. The "earth" hand is the arm uke originally attached to, and the "heaven" hand helps project past uke's chin, pretty much making a backwards fall the safest, least-painful option.

The nicest puzzle for katadori menuchi was something that looked like one arm was busy with our previous kōkyū nage, while tori more or less steps so that one ends with shihō nage or the "four-direction throw". Thinking about this now, it seems terribly complicated, but even with a beginning partner, the movement on the mat seemed only a little strange - tori had to trap the hand uke tries to use to strike with - it's already stopped because tori's first response is to block it, anyway. The arm uke tried to first grab a shoulder with is too tangled up by tori to do anything except turn away to relieve the pressure of the tangle - by then, tori has merrily skipped under a "bridge" of two arms, and holding uke's strking hand firmly, can accomplish the signature turn - the inspiration for the "four directions" name - of shihō nage.

There were a couple of quick references to other responses one could make within this same system - ikkyō, the "first teaching", which immobilizes the elbow and shoulder of uke right down to the mat. Or, rather than the complicated entry I just described, there's either directly entering, or "taking uke with" by turning so as to "extend" the intended strike of uke. Sometimes we reversed that, giving uke back their energy, or if we let the extension go too far, we looked briefly at henka waza - transformation techniques, or more rudely, what you do if you've not done your technique correctly and uke is about to take advantage of that lapse - a rather old-fashioned feeling ikkyō that one sets up by stepping away from uke while putting a hand in uke's face while extending the arm originally grabbed by uke. That stretches uke's arm so that it's not easy to stay in balance, especially if tori then takes back that outstretched hand, with a firm pressure on that outstretched arm, "breaking" uke's balance, and allowing tori to capture the hand and proceed to ikkyō.

Yes, I gave that last short shrift. There's a hip-twist involved, but I note I'm suddenly tired and want to move on before I run out of energy. The hip-twist will get a look-in another day.

Back on the katadori and sodedori, we also even got as far as the "rotary throw", inside and outside (uchi kaiten nage and soto kaiten nage. I kept wanting to do ude garame though. (This technique enjoys the translation of "arm entwining" - again, not going to go there today.) Fortunately, my partner knew me well, and didn't make too much fun of me and my brain-farts.

 
 


 
  2015.01.01  18.00
Silly Body

Shoulder and neck, why do you hate me so?

 
 


 
  2015.01.01  09.02
My Friend, Emma

Between fifteen and twenty years ago, my loving spouse and I made more trips to the US than we do now. We relied more on direct connections with friends, during trips back, the internet being not quite yet The Thing it is today.

Foolhardy souls that we were, we went for a Christmas to stay in my old hometown - one of our friends from the science fiction group had mentioned that she was looking for cat-sitters over the Christmas holiday, and so a deal was struck: we got a very happy place to stay, she visited with us until the actual Christmas days, when she went up-state for the family part of her holiday, we looked after cats while she was gone. We stayed for the personally important New Year's Eve party at Jeanne and Scott's place. They had a fabulous party game, where we answered a list of questions, then handed those lists to a different person: turns out these were to fill in blanks of "A New Year's Resolution", which we then took turns reading for the assembled party. Emma got mine, and standing straight and tall, she solemnly read my promise "to improve my skill playing the ocarina" to huge comic effect.

As one must, we had to return home soon after - we were saying goodbye at Hope and Karl's place, and Emma was there, listening sympathetically as I confessed that I had come to the sad conclusion that we were only ever going to come back for visits: my dream of being able to live once again in my old hometown was fading away in the realities of post-college life. I got some gentle teasing for that: after all, I was living, with my loving spouse, in his native country across the ocean. It wasn't as if I'd gotten the short end of the stick. Emma accepted my olive branch of chatting with her about considerations of her own specialty - software design or engineering, I think it was - as a way to emigrate.

We got around to chatting about science fiction books - you know how it is, with fans. We giggled together about the rarity of actually discussing, you know, books? of SF? I mentioned my enjoyment of the still shiney, new Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson. Getting newly published books from the US to Europe in a timely fashion was still a big issue, so I confessed that I was still waiting for the chance to read the final installment of the trilogy, Blue Mars "Oh really?" said Emma. "It's a great read, I've just finished it. Let me get it for you." I was completely surprised - and tried to protest, but Emma had already pulled on her winter coat and was legging it through the snow, while I was still fretting over the cold and the fuss. I just had time to confess to the loving spouse what course of events I'd inadvertently set in motion, when Emma was already back, thick novel in hand, great big grin.

Well, who could say "no" to that, eh?

I treasured the opportunity to finish reading the series so soon after publication, while our friends were still also thinking/talking about the book. But I treasured most of all Emma's big heart, as she dived out into the snow, to make sure we'd have the book on our way back home. I can't really think about this book anymore, without remembering that wonderful act of generosity between fans.

Truth to tell, I'm just getting to know Emma. That's because I recently went back to my Twitter account, among other places, and saw her name where I had been expecting someone else's, a man's name. I sent a direct message, and learned that, well yes, this was A Thing, but that she and her partner hadn't been advertising it widely just yet. So, I wasn't alone in my ignorance. But, as with many larger changes, one eventually widens the circle of Those Who Know. And I thought, well, I want to remember this story again, this time, with Emma's chosen gender.

Thank you so much, Emma. I'm pretty sure we even still have the book, although it does get lent out from time to time, even in this day and age. I'll try not to trip over the pronouns too much when I get to tell people how we got that final volume of the trilogy. You know how these pesky habits can be. I still sometimes even trip over Nevenah's name, and that's a change from rather longer ago, and without the gender-switch.

 
 


 
  2014.12.30  23.43
Last Aikido of 2014

Ah... I'm so glad I've recovered, since these last 2 weeks I've had some great training sessions...

Read more... )

 
 


 
  2014.12.28  21.49
Wrapping up the year and other things

I've been nudging and suggesting - and soon, I won't be at Facebook anymore.

I've dropped in a couple of times - trying to help two friends connect so that they know to say hello to each other after I'm gone. I've also shared a couple of links/stories. All in all, not a bad thing, to be going. I start to think of reading the (so-called) news feed, or one of the little subsets I've kludged together so I could actually see what my friends were posting, and sigh. It was all too much like work.

Much more fun is aikido - was back on the mat for the fourth time in a row, and one of our members did his 1st kyū exam. After this, he'll leave the bosom of our dōjō for any future exams, as they will be for black belts. It's starting me thinking about when I might try for the 1st kyū myself: I'd been on the verge of starting to study for it nearly 2 years ago, but suddenly life got very, very pear-shaped. However, a lot of those situations are now resolving, if not in our favor then at least in ways that no longer demand our attention on pain of nasty outcomes.

 
 


 
  2014.12.21  17.34
Snapshots

I've downloaded my data from that social networking site - now I'm going to start the deletion process in earnest.

But, since it's not the end of the year yet, I thought I'd take a little look -

A week ago, I was still struggling with the post-shingles health problems, and trying to chase down some people who hadn't yet used their invite codes for creating a new journal here.

A month ago, my aikido dojo-friend Wim and I finally managed to arrange a meal together - he has to hang out close to our place when one of his kids does some musical evening practice, so we had a lovely Italian meal at a restaurant that's been open long enough to have worked out the kinks, but recently enough that they still have a powerful fire in their belly to do the service thing right. Marvelous time! Less marvelous was the news we all had to share with one another, but that is one of the treasures of friendship: sharing doesn't hurt your friend, and you get to support your friend by letting him or her share.

Six months ago, I was chortling over a friend giving me a "Conan the Grammarian" award for a screed I'd published on her post, regarding some infelicitously expressed religious-speak. That, and also getting ready to have an abbreviated birthday party - abbreviated because the loving spouse and I were both at very low ebb due to several real-world developments that were draining our abilities to cope with more than very basic stuff. So, instead of hosting a birthday party in our home, I asked if we couldn't just have 3 or 4 friends over at a newly-opened ice cream place near our house. Reader, that's what we did, and it was definitely Very Fun.

A year ago, or just slightly less, I was deeply shocked to learn that our city had been visited by an honest-to-God tornado. As I said to someone telling me he was helping with the clean-up, "This is not why I left the Midwest! It's no fucking fair I get a tornado in Belgium!!" I was also recovering from surgery to Frankenfoot - my right foot which had acquired a serious malformation in its alignment. A year ago was roughly a month after the surgery, still two weeks to go with a pin through one toe, probably another 4 weeks for the one and only time in my life I've had to use crutches. All-in-all a successful surgery and post-op recovery, but not something I would want to repeat (even though the left foot also has some problems - but we're still working with about half-a-pharmacy's worth of orthotics to avoid the condition worsening...)

Two years ago I was busily preparing myself for a volunteer position which turned out not to be ready for me. Much heartache ensued. But she also enjoyed observing the Mayan end of an era by trying to duplicate an "original" hot chocolate - with corn meal as the base, rather than milk, and warming spices like chili.

Three years ago I was still hoping to work on a bachelor's degree in Japanology, something I've since had to give up on. However, among the many obstacles in my way was a 2 day train strike - thanks to the loving spouse, I had been able to rent a hotel room for the one night. But the next day was the final day of classes before the exam period, and I so wanted to be home. Luckily, I was on good terms with one of the teachers, and she had to drive not far from my house - I could use my folding bike to return home from the outskirts of town, while my teacher went on to her place in Antwerp. And we had a great chat together, as well.

Four years ago, I was trying to stay afloat in the Japanology program, but not really succeeding. Still, there were good times, as we got to go try out our verbal skills with a bunch of teenagers from the Japanese School of Brussels. I was also having a bit of a heartache as a friendship I'd invested a lot in went sour, but there were also loads of friends who were extremely supportive, and made sure I knew that these things were not my fault.

Five years ago, I had gone for my 2nd kyū grading in aikido. Normally, one would have tried for the 1st kyū after a year or so but first school issues, then health, intervened in a big way. Maybe next year, I think, wistfully...

Six years ago, I was enjoying a visit from my friend Mags, our near-neighbor when we lived in Dublin, Ireland. I'm hoping you get a repeat visit, soon!

Seven years ago, I had bought my very first hakama, for wearing during aikido training. A bit of explanation is in order: one of the visually distinctive things about aikido is that advanced students wear a pair of black trousers - the hakama - over the more regularly recognized "white pajamas" that we associate with oriental martial arts. Some jurisdictions would reserve these for use by students who had attained their shodan, or what we call the black belt. (What a non-practitioner doesn't realize is that the shodan means only that you're considered as starting out.) But Belgium aikido clubs are a little looser about it - they are concerned with not burdening the beginning student with too many costs for specialized clothing/equipment, but do like the notion of people committing to aikido, if their means and their energy lead them that way. So the hakama is less a signal of someone's attainment of skill or rank, and more a declaration of commitment to continue to study.

Oh, that and the wearer's assertion that they can do proper falling technique with their partners. What my friend Wim mentioned above as, "Victim for the sensei during class demonstrations."

Eight years ago, I was digging out mentally from the utter disaster that was my return to university. I was utterly exhausted, and only starting to just put into place a number of supports and systems that I still now rely on, even though I'm no longer in the university. I was to discover not that being close to 50 was a problem, but that a number of undiagnosed problems that I could sail through at age 25 were not nearly so easy to cope with as a near 50-year-old student. Also part of the time around then was the dojo that I'd been attending burned down - we were situated in a new place in about six months, but the time before then was very stressful indeed, and it wasn't helped by the fact that one of the aikido teachers I had been in contact with died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Geeling it still as being very new to our place here in Belgium, that was a heavy series of set-backs to have to deal with, even from a relatively peripheral position.

Nine years ago we moved from Ireland to Belgium. Life-changing doesn't even begin to cover it.

Ten years ago I was still trying to both do aikido and participate in a choir, in Dublin. I sang with this group at the same place my friend Nichola worked (still works?), a nursing home. I'd only been doing aikido a couple of years at this point, but was getting a fair idea of how unusual it was for someone of my age to be able to sit on the floor in seiza (or with the legs folded up so that one sits with the bum just above one's ankles). Due to time considerations, I gave up the choir so that I could keep doing aikido - both were evening/leisure time activities, and my loving spouse was working hard during the day - so he had a reasonable expectation of being able to see me outside of his working hours.

Fifteen years ago (working from memory, now) we were still in Dublin, living in a rented house in which we could also enjoy our wonderful calico cat. (She made it to age 20 in 2010.) Since she'd come with us from the Netherlands, we were required to have her in quarantine; the house we were living in at this time was our first where she could run free with us.

Twenty years ago we were still living in the Netherlands, in a still surprising to me beautiful 2 floor flat. The cat we now refer to as the elder-statescat was a mere youngster then, racing around whenever we made special holiday meals, and going on hunger strike for her belovéd LAMB.

 
 


 
  2014.12.20  19.15
Up and Down

Well, oops! Having promised a longer article, I got really tired and by the time I had energy again, life was back asking for me to pay it some attention.

Okay, then.

I think I'm finally getting over this shingles thing. I went to aikido and actually trained - during the week and also today. Then I went to help the loving spouse with some serious furniture and large-items of crap moving. Which I was able to do, when previously, carrying a television across the length of the house pretty much wore me out and left me useless for anything besides a very long nap.

I haven't napped yet today! *big smile* Loving spouse has, though.

That's not quite fair of me: he's borne the brunt of some very difficult times these past 22 months or so, and I have not be able to be the support I was when, say, we first moved to here in Belgium nine years ago. He's been splendidly supportive of me despite several set-backs that took me effectively out of the picture for helping him with this other crap. He's been running, hard, in one place. He's more than deserved the nap he had today on my lap, while I was doing some computer stuff. (We have a large couch with various places for sitting/putting up feet, etc. One end of that has effectively become my computer corner.)

I am so-o-o-o-o glad to have been back on the tatami for training. If I want to live dangerously, I may even return to wearing my hakama at practice tomorrow.

Ooops, there's the alarm for the rice, gotta go!

 
 


 
  2014.12.18  14.17
Meditations on having suffered abuse

Thanks to the delightful people at the blog, Making Light, I have a rather well-distilled set of insights on Tumblr regarding the realities of having suffered abuse.

Saying, "But, everyone's suffered", it's a bit of a double-edged sword, isn't it? Equal parts of guilt for the sin of indulging self-pity, encouragement that you're not in this alone, pushing back against someone else in the name of your own anxiety management... but, in the end, seeing these behaviors - these acts that have also been performed against myself, and not just in the dark distant past - enumerated as "abuse" is remarkably liberating. This is my reminder, that I am not living life on this Earth just to swallow that kind of shit.Read more... )

 
 


 
  2014.12.15  10.06
Memories: being a school kid during two events in 1976

It's hard to believe, but time really does keep going... someone mentioned within my hearing on the internet two events that have left me with vivid memories: the great ice storm of Wisconsin (scroll down to the bottom of the first page), and the teachers' strike in Madison, both in 1976.Read more... )

 
 


 
  2014.12.12  15.28


I've proved - once again - I am a superior engineer to my husband.

Mostly because I am a functional paranoid. I try to prevent things from going wrong before they do. Read more... )I asked him to admire my handiwork, and when he demurred, I said, "Go look at it, and admit that I'm the superior engineer." Yeah, I made him pay, at least that much. He's trying to turn that into, "Well, I'll give you all the jobs then," but I am not budging; "No, you are going to learn how to do them properly!"

But now, this superior engineer is returning to her little sickie-nest. She needs a rest before dinner.

 
 


 
  2014.12.07  10.59
Link-Salad

Stuff my recent life has had my mind chewing on lately:Link salad behind the cut, quotes, some reactions )

 
 


 
  2014.12.05  18.24
Last Hurrah, end of week one

As you might have read in an earlier entry, I'm suffering from an attack of shingles And paid for the folly of considering it only as a skin-deep condition, going to aikido on the day after the initial manifestation of the characteristic rash.

In the meantime,... )

 
 


 
  2014.12.03  09.38
Sick day activities, #1

One of the wonders of this age is the internet.

We all know this, but I still keep repeating it. I would never have dreamed, back in my twenties, that I could have ever studied Japanese without paying a literal king's ransom for audio materials. But these days? If I have a computer, and the right software on it, and a connection to the internet... well, the only thing stopping me then is my personal level of energy and desire.

Even then... with a computer of the more portable variety - think "tablet" rather than "laptop", I can acquire some lovely sound files and have them playing close to my ear as I lay in bed, or snooze on the couch. And I've discovered recently that the Japanese national broadcaster, NHK, rather kindly creates individual "podcasts" of each of their news programs for listening on your mobile telephone, tablet, etc.

Saying that, please let me clarify - I don't really understand every word of the broadcasts. Not by a long shot. In my earliest years of formal study at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (for a bachelor's degree that, I suspect, I will never succeed in acquiring, but that's fodder for another post), my teachers kept telling me how very difficult that would be. It's not that I didn't believe them, and I must have seemed horribly stubborn in my insistence on trying, but I acquired a serious news-junkie habit along with my first bachelor's degree, now nearly 30 years ago.

So, listening to a newscast in Japanese... )

 
 


 
  2014.12.01  09.47
The Last Hurrah of the Chicken Pox

One of the fascinating things of the human body is how it maintains a "memory" - the immune system builds up an "archive" of pathogens, against which it can react on subsequent encounters.

And, damn, nature got a work-around to deal with that. Enter the virus, Read more... )

 
 


 
  2013.05.30  13.08
Ôoku - Tanjô: romantic yet full of surprises

A few years back, thanks to the James Tiptree Award, we learned of a lovely Japanese comic called Ôoku. This depicted an alternate history, diverging from the real world during the Tokugawa shogunate. The first volume takes one through the beginning of a terrible, unknown plague, killing many young boys and men while leaving the women and girls untouched.

Since this is the beginning of Japan's self-imposed isolation, the disease (it's implied) stays on the Japanese archipelago. Eventually, it reaches the Shôgun in Edo (present day Tokyo); so soon after the cessation of hostilities from the Warring States period, Iemitsu's death is seen as nothing short of disastrous. His former wet-nurse, Kasuga, who has already learned much of the schemes and politics of the shogunate, pushes through an audacious plan: she arranges for her own son to "die" in the shôgun's place, and to issue pronouncements with a heavy hood over his face. It's assumed by those looking at him - that is, the men outside of the shôgun's privy council - that he survived the "red-face pox", but only by paying a high price in terms of his appearance. So, what is so different about the love-story that takes place? )

So, a love story, true, but more than just a mere relationship - this J-drama places the love story firmly in the big picture, introspection given to the need for compassion as well as sincere self-evaluation, and answering to the many pains the characters' situation has thrust upon them.

 
 


 
  2013.05.05  09.04
Impossible Things before Breakfast: Corporate Ethics

Today's news on Belgian television was a quick lesson in the functioning of "corporate ethics."

Functioning as an example of what an oxymoron is.

The past couple of weeks, we've been hearing about a rather lovely looking boy, seven years of age. He suffers from one of those "orphan illnesses" - diseases that are so rare that they do not benefit from the economies of scale that sufferers of, for example, impotence would have.

The cost of his treatment, in order to stay alive, is 9000 euro every two weeks.Read more... )

 
 


 
  2013.01.18  07.31
Memories of School - Home Economics

(For the record - I hate sending people to F*ceb**k, but there you go.)

A friend of mine recently showed me a photo of a home economics class. The comments provoked from the photo made me want to set down some of my own memories of that particular set of educational experiences.

Being that I was in school after the famous 1960's, but before the 1980's backlash gained much head, I reckon my years in middle school in a university town were definitely informed by 60's ideals like sexual equality and teaching material relevant to concrete problems of living in society.

Definitely, the things I learned in those classes, I still use this very day, more than 30 years later. So, by and large, I could say the education board of my town made the right choices.

What my school had done was to dilute the amount of bad-image that home economics had acquired from its 1950's associations. They did this by organizing a number of "arts" into modules, and the year then consisted of 6 weeks in one art, 6 weeks in the next, etc., until all the blocks had been attended in their turn. This arrangement also made it easier for the school to enforce the "all blocks for ALL students", without waving the twin red flags of home economics for boys, or shop ("industrial arts") for girls. I had a sense that there was little resistance to this arrangement among my fellow students.

As far as I can remember, the blocks divided the fine and applied arts like this:
  • art - 2d (drawing, block printing)
  • art 3-d (clay, small metal work, plaster casting)
  • music - choral
  • music - instrumental
  • industrial arts - drafting
  • industrial arts - woodworking
  • home economics - kitchen
  • home economics - household furnishings (where we learned the use of a sewing machine)


All of these classes taught me something enduring: I still sing with great happiness, play recorder occasionally, attempt to draw in an attempt to express things or externalize an idea for further consideration, play with clay (these years it's polymer clay, though), am equipped to enjoy attempts at other arts (for instance, a dear friend introduced me to etching glass, for instance), I can cook for myself without relying on ready-made or "convenience" items, wash dishes (a major improvement on the chaotic way it was done in our home), use a sewing machine, do minor repairs with power tools safely...

in short, pretty much what a school wants to do for future adults, yes?

Every block had its star activity; for the home economics blocks, the two classes involved cooperated, under the supervision of the teachers, to create a "restaurant evening" for our parents. After the basics were taught, we planned a menu, divided up the necessary tasks, made checked tablecloths for the tables, cooked the meals, received our "customers", brought them meals and drinks...

The sewing machines were particularly well presented to us students: they were technical enough for the boys to not be frightened of "girl cooties", but not so utterly male-identified that they scared off the "girly-girls." (Incidentally, this was a perfect fit for me - I was confident of being a girl, but still experimenting with non-girly ways with my self-image; I loved all of the blocks for their access and support in learning all of those skills, traditional and non-traditional alike.) One image I treasure is how a couple of my fellow students, having been cautioned by the teacher to not run the sewing machine too fast, they went to the other extreme, and gloried in their increasing skill in making the needle go s-l-o-w-l-y up, and then even more s-l-o-w-l-y down. We all had a good laugh at that contest, as the boys set about outdoing one another in who could achieve the slowest needle movement. (Politeness forbears speculating in the open about how they applied that patience and focus later in life...) Another good memory is how one of our projects, before the final restaurant project, was either a purse or a backpack - in fact just another simple bag but with shoulder straps instead of one long strap. I chose for the backpack (feeling contrary, and not wanting to follow gender expectations at that point - plus, I figured even then a backpack was more useful for my needs) and after making it, I used it constantly until it could no longer be repaired. My experiences with the sewing machine (as with the other tools we got to use) left me feeling empowered - a very good thing for a not-so-social 12 year old girl.

The kitchen home economics class likewise laid a sturdy foundation for my further life - I was showing off the cooking skills to my mother, who I know appreciated how she could now rely on logistical help in the kitchen, even to the point of preparing meals from scratch. And while the details of current practice with the food pyramid have changed, the general concept, of eating a variety of foods in moderation, remains at the forefront of my planning to this day.

Beyond home economics, the other classes were also treasure troves of experiences and information. I already mentioned the art classes, but the industrial arts classes also left deep impressions; from projects using plaster casting and mounting on a display board, to the "draftsman's lettering" - taught in an entirely irresponsible way, pedagogically speaking - simply making us do it over and over, until we got it right, while not quite knowing what we were looking for. But despite my struggle to understand the notion of spacing and weight, without having ever really considered them in text work before, something must have taken root in my poor brain: a couple years later, I took a "bookmaking" class, which also included writing in that book - with calligraphy. The teacher watched me copy his first examples and his first response was, "You've done this before!" I said no, I never had... but then realized, the result I was achieving with the broad edged pen was relying on the perceptions I had worked so hard to school into me during the draftsman's lettering portion of our industrial arts classes. Since then, calligraphy also has remained a recurring activity and love.

So, in my daily life, I take a moment to consider just how much I got out of these particular classes, when I was 12 years old. My schooling, especially in all the arts, not just home economics, laid an unmissable foundation. And it was a stroke of genius, on the part of the educators of that time, to de-privelege home economics, and make it one of many necessary arts for the formation of a human being in society.

Coda: That school inspired some lovely teachers, by the way: the year previous to this one, I'd actually only attended a half year, because an opportunity to live with my father (in a Mountain Time Zone state) came up, and so I moved for the second semester. But I hadn't been completely organized (what 12 year old is, actually?), so some stuff got left behind. Including my entry in the art-class contest for creating a "Draggin' Dragon". My entry had been pretty straightforward, actually - a dragon with its body stretched out full length, legs akimbo, wings not even drooping, just flattened and draped from where they were fastened on the dragon's shoulders.

But the reason I can remember it so clearly, despite having left it behind? The art teacher packed up and mailed my project to me. The package arrived with her congratulations: I had won the Draggin' Dragon contest!

 
 


 
  2011.05.11  15.34
Tomorrow...

I am going to write my diary - the full blown, details and nitty-gritty - tomorrow. I'm going to do it for the Mass Observation project.

Even if I don't live in Great Britain.

Check out the details - http://www.massobs.org.uk/12may2011.html

 
 


 
  2011.01.15  15.07
Haiku of reflection

Full-turn of seasons,
yet, you still remain absent;
beyond unfaithful.

 
 


 
  2011.01.01  16.29
A (highly personal) Review of 2010

I'd come into the beginning of 2010 flush with the success of passing my most recent kyu exam for aikido.

Life got off to a less than even start, however, when our dojo discovered that the café attached to our sports center had spectacularly gone bust: we'd arrived to find the door locked, and only the tersest of explanations from the sports center staff. (Not their fault: the café is run as a franchise, I think.) However, luckily someone who used to work in the kitchen there stepped up to the plate as the new owner/manager.

A friend's request to help with some translation work came at just the right time - after exams. I hadn't done very well at most of them - I was to have to wait a month before I got my results. So the timing for his request couldn't have been better; doing that translation really helped me feel like I could at least do some things right. (The translation, by the way, was for work assembled by David D. Levine on his "trip to Mars" - a simulation run by the Mars Society, testing out protocols for living safely in extreme environments. One of his mission-mates hailed from Belgium, and kept her trip-weblog in Dutch.)

In the end, my language exams turned out pretty poorly - an improvement on the previous time I tried to pass them, but still no pass for me. Happier news was that I got a hugely successful grade for my Japanese history class. Given my state of mind, I had been convinced I'd failed that exam, as well - but no, not only did I pass, I did so with a convincing margin, hooray! I had a chat with the professor, who seemed slightly worried that I'd scheduled the meeting to protest my grade. "Oh no! I'm deliriously happy at my grade! I just want to know what the breakdown of the grade is, and to learn what I should do for improving my exam writing." He was happy to oblige, and in so doing, I felt like I "owned" my grade a bit more than when I walked into his office. As things turned out, even the written exam had been decently done, in his view; and the Wiki-style project (alas, you'll have to be able to read Dutch to really get the most out of it, here), for which I'd done even better, was the luscious cherry on top.

We started to put together a dream trip for the spring break: Japan! In between the Christmas rush, the start of the second semester, and the general staying ahead of the treadmill of living, at the end of March all the pieces came together, and we boarded a train to Paris, to then embark on a plane for Tokyo Narita airport.

It's so cliché. I still get shivers.

Before we got that far, though, I managed to sneak out some time from studies to read a really enjoyable science fiction book, with a lovely huge dollop of aikido as part of the plot! By an aikidoka (who else would write such a thing, eh?) named Steven Gould, writing Helm.

I got some minor fame locally as sometime in February I'd been buttonholed by a camera crew, and after they realized that I was indeed resident in our little town, they talked to me on camera about an upcoming restaurant contest. As one of my friends told me, "You were great! You boosted our town like you were a presenter for 'Vacationland Flanders!'" Well, it helps that we think pretty highly of our adoptive home, in which we've now spent 5 years. (Cute little coda about the restaurant: it didn't succeed in winning whatever contest there was, but a sushi-yakitori place has moved in - a development of which we heartily approved here-abouts!)

The journey to Japan was everything we could have hoped for. Except for the unplanned extention of the sojourn, due to the Icelandic volcano spewing ash and blanketing every western European airport we might have used to get home. However, even this became an opportunity: until then, I had held off of any regular training, not wanting to leave the loving spouse without his humbly-skilled interpreter. But, with his encouragement, the extra week became my opportunity to do something I was sure I wasn't ready for, but still was determined to do: train at the Honbu Dojo, or the main dojo, of the Aikido Federation. There was a little matter of arranging a training uniform, since of course, not intending to train when we left Europe, I'd not brought any of my own uniforms from home.

Ooops. Well, not really. The uniform I got that week, with an extra jacket embroidered with my name (in katakana, リンアン), is and will be a treasured souvenir for many years to come.

Of course, that wasn't all, but... well, Japan in spring-time. What else would you want to know, that doesn't require you going there to experience it yourself? Mind, ask me in person, and I will talk your ear off, that's how much of an impression it made with us. I'd go back in a hot-second, and our hope for 2011 is that we can develop plans, perhaps for 2012.

The Japan trip was good for making me really extend my reach with the beautiful camera given to me by the loving spouse the year before; we have a ton of pictures (loving digital photography, where that expression is most definitely one of metaphor!) that we'd like to "do something" with. We aren't sure what, just yet, but the thought is that it will involve self-publishing. I've also been showing more shots to friends who are active amateur photographers, and getting encouraging feedback from them - that turns into a nice little feedback loop: more encouragement, more pictures - more pictures, more encouragement! I also want to share more of my everyday experience with my friends back in the US and even the friends from our time in Ireland.

The camera was also a companion during short city breaks to London and Paris - hooray for the Eurostar, especially as we didn't use it during its major breakdown at the beginning of the year. (The experience of being stuck several hours in the tunnel, after the engines had shorted out from blowing snow/condensation, with what sounded like a complete absence of awareness on the part of the staff re "duty of care", just looked completely dire.) For the city break to Paris, that was a case of the camera being in the hands of the loving spouse, as I scampered off with only one slightly guilty backward glance, to a lovely aikido workshop by Endo Seishiro sensei. (However badly I think I'm doing at Japanese, I can say this much: I officially understand it better than the French translations they had on offer during the workshop. *amazed look*)

Belgium got to host an aikido teacher currently teaching at Honbu Dojo in late November. I wasn't quite up to it physically, but I still had a number of very engaging sessions, and made some new friends along the way. I really hope we see Osawa sensei back in Belgium.

About that physical problem that kept me from training with complete dedication: during the icy-weather of March, I experienced what I thought was a sprained toe. But it kept being a problem, and improvement was v e r y slow; after debating with myself and talking a few times with our GP, I finally started a round of tests - the x-ray and the ultrasound revealed diddly squat, except that both specialists could tell that, yes, that joint had edema and inflammation. Why yes, thank you, I could have told you that. (What they told me that I did not know: I had the beginnings of arthritis in the big toe. Not the problem one, but a different, and rather less noticable, as in no pain at all.) The MRI was the trick - seems the "injury" I thought I did it in the cold wasn't a sprain, but a mild manifestation of a joint condition (with the name of its main researcher, "Freiburg" as it's only identifier), that meant the joint itself no longer was meeting up properly, due to a deformation of the end of the bone. Well, *ow*. And *pout*. Still wondering how to address this issue in my aikido - I haven't been doing proper knee-walking techniques (because doing that requires a flexion of the toe joints, which I can just about do now, 10 months after the original appearance of the problem - but not with any of my weight at all on top of the flexed toe, which means doing shikkō is right out. I'm getting to the point in my training progress where this will become an issue.)

Travel, it seemed, couldn't top the Japan vacation, but on some levels that's exactly what meeting up with Mary Ellen and John, old friends from high school days (note to readers: the only people from high school I'm still friends with are the science fiction and fantasy fans; the only friendships that could stand that test of time!) The loving spouse gave into my strong preference to take the train both ways to Switzerland, where we would meet our friends, and - after not having laid eyes on these people for the guts of 20 years, there they were in all their glory. (We admired the wrinkles, gray hairs, somewhat heavier builds... and their two wonderful kids, looking extremely grown up by now. Eeeep!)

In the early autumn, the loving spouse helped me realize a small but important ambition: to attend the morning training sessions at the dojo in Mortsel - a train ride away, but given the timing of those sessions, that was an important consideration, taking as I was the very first train of the morning to get to the dojo. Assisted by a wonderful folding-bike - you see, taking one of those onto a train is free, rather than having to pay a steep top-up for a full-sized bike. Anyway, that, and his cheerful blessing, were both material supports in getting myself to those wonderful morning sessions. A real "breakfast-club" of aikido-loonies!

On the end of that period, came a visit from our friend Jane, out of Edinburgh, and a cold. Co-currently. Blast. Pout. That put the plan to attend the week of morning sessions during the first week of November definitely on the skids. Alas, since I also had to say goodbye to one of my three aikido sessions during the week, due to an irresolvable conflict in scheduling with a Japanese language class. At least Jane was very gracious about listening to me whine, while she returned nearly exhausted from a stint as a delegate to a conference, only to be asked to catch up with us during the Beneluxcon, held this year in Antwerp. (Or, more often more natural-sounding to me these days, "Antwerpen.") But her first advent turned out to be the week before, when we discovered the utter bliss of the utility of the short-message-service, when it works like it's supposed to. She and I coordinated our arrivals at the train station, thanks to a classmate's kind offer of a lift. And so, I could conduct Jane to our place as a proper hostess, from the train station.

In between, I was discovering a whole new world of use for that folding bike - it made zipping around campus and to/from the train station an absolute joy - I've taken to calling the folding bike "my personal jetpack" and plan on getting some artwork done by a dojo-mate who has a free-lance business as an airbrush artist.

Some points of sadness: in the summer, both of the aikido teachers who'd been with Belgium in the earliest days of the introduction of aikido died. On a more personal front, there were some endings, that were more bitter for the manner of their making. But, as I said a lot to myself during the worst moments, "This, too, shall pass." Along with Nana korobi ya oki (Japanese for, "Fall down seven times, get up eight.") And, alas, other friends had it worse, with job losses, reversals in health situations (not made any better by the follies of the US so-called health care, so-called debate) and having to say final goodbyes to friends of many years. Not to mention what is a crap economy that is hurting a lot of people I care for. It doesn't help me keep perspective (this never has worked with me, smacking as it does of telling someone to ignore her own pain because yours is really more important), but it does help us all to band together and reckon those losses together, and then to count what good we still have. And how we go into the future together.

This glosses over some important points, and there are things I'm not sharing in this forum - old cautious ways meet the new needs imposed by the still developing medium of the Internet. But I can still end in a relatively optimistic way, something I'd not always been able to say in past times of looking back over a year. A happy 2011 to friends and acquaintances!

 
 


 
  2010.08.01  15.32
No Good Way to Say Goodbye

Dear Aunt Virginia,

the news of your health struggles recently came to me via your brother.

I'm very, very sorry for your suffering. I don't know what you've been through in the previous years, decades even, and I'm sorry that is the case.

I wanted to take a moment to think about those times that I did have contact, and share them with you: when I was eight years old, or thereabouts, and my mom and dad came to your house somewhere in California. It was summer, I think. Mom and you spent a lot of time talking together, catching up I suppose. An older daughter, Wendy? I found intriguing because her name was the same as the Wendy of the Peter Pan Disney film we'd seen some weeks before the visit. She was old enough to go in and out, shuttling between talking with you and Cici and her own life as that (for me then) near-mythical being, the eighteen-year-old.

Danielle was a cousin, I think, who was nearer my age. That seemed really important to me at the time. She also had cool toys - I especially liked the game one could play with the Eight Ball - wow! they still have those! I wanted one for myself so badly I could taste it; I understood the way the answers in the "fortunetelling" of the Eight Ball were fudge answers, and found that matching the possible answers to ever-sillier questions was great amusement. (And at that age, even the question, "Will I get married?" was pretty silly. Yeah, I'm married now, and pretty happily so, but when I was eight, I had NO idea.)

But my most precious memory was of a huge tree in your front yard. I was told, since it was the first time I'd ever seen such a tree, that it was called a "weeping willow." I wondered at first how it could be weeping - that was something I did all the time, at school, crying because I got a lot of bullying attention or not enough friendly teacher attention. I couldn't quite put "weeping" next to the wonderful, sheltered feeling I got as I crouched with Danielle inside the perimeter of the drooping twigs, thick long dusty two-toned green leaves so thick that we couldn't see "outside".

It was like... it was even better than every time we'd get to take chairs and blankets and create a temporary fort, in the interstitial spaces of adult requirements for the furniture in the dining and/or living rooms. This was a "fort" all ready for us, with a beautiful green curtain that let the wind through in whispers. And the height of it... not just a tiny room to creep into beneath the height of the chair, but a space that went up and up and up... I was too young then, but now I'd use the word "cathedral-like" to describe that sheltered airy space.

I'm afraid that is really all I do remember. There was doubtless all the grown-up stuff that you and my mom and dad were having to catch up on, which was then completely over my head. Then later... I don't know what happened, but I'm sorry I didn't make more of a point to do my own investigation, and possibly reconnect with you back when I was in my 20's or 30's. It would have been worth it, even with how ill you are now; it would have been good to be able to see you, hold your hand, listen to what you would be able to share. If you could, perhaps you'd tease me for having been the sort of child then who had to be continually fetched out from the willow for the sake of joining in family dinners and the like.

I'm sending you my deepest wishes for strength and peace, and hope this lets you know a few of the tiny jewels I can treasure, incidental though they are to your much bigger life.

With all my heart,

Lynne Ann

 
 


 
  2010.05.31  16.26
Words as Worry Beads

Acceptance. (But neither approval nor resignation.)
Distraction. (Re-directing, not avoidance.)
Comfort.
Focus (On external details, not internal dialogues.)
Exit. (Return later, when the storm is past.)
Breathe. Always, always, always.

(As a friend has told me, it's cheap and portable.)

 
 


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