Wednesday, June 27, 2007

That Which Does Not Destroy Me Makes Me Stronger

That Which Does Not Destroy Me Makes Me Stronger

One consequence of having been through neurosurgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy is that I have a bad case of the old people's disease, CRS, Can't Remember Stuff.

This comes home to me repeatedly, as when, in the evening, I see that my wife has written an important message on the little whiteboard which lives on the fridge door. The message is this: "buy two bread."

Mustn't forget. But how to make sure I don't? The simple solution is to go upstairs, grab a marker pen, write "buy two bread" on a piece of paper, then bring the paper downstairs, together with my alarm clock. The paper goes on a plate sitting on the table and the alarm clock sits on top of the paper.

That way, when I come downstairs in the morning I will see the message on the table and remember. The alarm clock should be sitting on the table in any case, set to wake me at 1730 in case I am sleeping in the afternoon, since I have to pick up daughter Cornucopia from the daycare center at 1800.

So I head upstairs to my personal room, meaning to write the message and get the alarm clock.

When I come down for breakfast in the morning, I check the whiteboard on the refrigerator door, as I always do, and see that there is an important message waiting: "buy two bread." I remember having seen it before. But there is no piece of paper waiting on the table, and my alarm clock is still upstairs in my personal room.

To get round this forgettery, I keep a todo list, and, when some must-do, should-do or might-do occurs to me, I write it down on the list. Immediately.

Then, if I can remember where I last put the list (which is sometimes problematical) I'm in business.

Apart from simply forgetting stuff, I get overloaded when I have to multitask. An example of this occurred on the evening o Monday 25 June, when I went to pick up three-year-old daughter Cornucopia from the daycare center.

When I entered the chaotic daycare room, my daughter came rushing up to me and demanded "Dako!" She wanted to be picked up and carried.

Before I picked her up, I checked that the staff had changed her into paper pants for the return home, which they are supposed to do but sometimes neglect to. She has a tendency to poop in her panties on the way home, and if she is wearing cloth rather than paper, then that is my fault, because I should have checked, and then I'm in deep doo-doo.

So I did check, and felt appropriately proud at having remembered to do so.

Then I picked up Cornucopia and carried her with me as I went round the room gathering up her daycare things: cup, toothpaste, two handtowels, plastic bag containing any soiled linen, two aprons, three additional towels, and the notebook which travels between home and the daycare.

As I carried her, I chanted, as is my custom on these occasions, "Duck-oh, duck-oh, quack-quack; goose-oh, goose-oh, honk-honk, dog-oh, dog-oh, woof-woof; kangaroo-oh, kangaroo-oh, pyong-pyong." The first "duck-oh" is a kind of pun on "dako."

To get at the notebook I had to put down Cornucopia, and she went rushing off, and the next time I saw her she had taken her yellow plastic parka off her outdoor clothing hook in the hall. So I registered the fact that she had the parka.

We then went outside and she played on the little plastic fort outside, which incorporates stairs, battlements and a slide to descend by. She then played with dirt, and, before we headed off home, I made her wash her hands at the outdoor tap.

When we got to the pushchair, our elite Silver Cross stroller, I realized that the rain cover, which had been on the chair in the morning, had been removed by a person or persons unknown. This had never happened before.

So I hunted around in the pushchair menagerie and found the missing cover, which I identified by the distinctive rectangular tab of orange glued to it.

I then went to push the button which opens the security gate to let us out, but I found the button was missing from the usual pillar. I hunted around for it and very shortly found it, wired to the wall behind the pillar.

By this time Cornucopia was in the chair and, because I was behind her, pushing, I didn't see her all the way home. She demanded to be allowed to get out of the chair and walk, but, as it had started raining, I denied her permission, and we went home.

When we got to the front door, I realized that Cornucopia did not have her parka. Was it down in the garage with the chair? No.

My wife asked me what had happened, and I had to confess that I had no recollection of what happened after I saw Cornucopia with the parka.

The next morning, Tuesday, when we got to the shoe box, which sits outside, Cornucopia looked for the parka, which her mother had told her to find. "Nai!" she said. Meaning, "It isn't there!" (Obviously the Japanese is more compact than the English, because Japanese is a singularly compact language, particularly because one of the basic rules of Japanese grammar is that you can omit absolutely everything, even the verb, if the meaning remains clear.)

We went inside and I told a teacher that Karin's parka had gone missing, and she immediately, with a smile, produced the offending item, which I unequivocally identified because of the distinctive plaid fabric interior inside the yellow plastic.

I'd taken my umbrella because it was threatening to rain, and, one minute after exiting the daycare, I realized I'd forgotten my umbrella. I realized this because rain started falling down on top of me.

I remembered thinking to myself that I MUST NOT hook the umbrella on the side of the outdoor shoe box, because if I did that then I would be sure to forget it and to walk off without it.

But where, then, had I left it?

I retraced my steps and found the umbrella hooked by its handle to the side of the shoebox, precisely where I'd told myself it should not be.

On the Monday evening, multitasking overwhelmed me, and I lost track of the parka. Additionally, I had a worry on my mind: would my last-ditch effort to save the data on my hard disk have worked or not?

The operating system that I usually use is an OS which is known by two names. In the Infernal Realms, it goes by the name of Satan's Sabotage System, a product proudly brought to you by Satanic Software Transconglomerata. In the mundane world in which we live, it masquerades by another name, this being Windows Professional XP, responsibility for which is claimed (apparently without shame) by an outfit known as Microsoft, the unacceptable face of monopoly capitalism.

Recently, this diabolical OS took yet another shot at destroying my life. I must admit that I'd been abusing it by using it for a purpose which it was not designed for, the purpose being to run software and to manipulate data files in various formats.

XP is not designed to be a workhorse. It's designed to be a fashion accessory. You're supposed to be wowed by how pretty it looks, to stare at the screen in dazed wonder, admiring the lapidary eye-candy, thinking to yourself, gee, this is real cute, I sure got value for my money this time out.

Because the OS is basically malfunctional, I routinely revert my computer to factory conditions to rectify XP after it has fallen over, and I've forgotten how many times I've done this.

I recently noticed that the system was going south when I decided to give the final text of my new book of poems, GENGHIS LOTUS POETRY COLLECTION, a final spellcheck. For this purpose I'd been using OpenOffice 2. But, when I did the final check, I found that all the terms that I'd added to the spellchecker's memory had been deleted. This cued me to the fact that I needed to reinstall the OS, and so I backed up key critical data in three places: on a 512 megabyte compact flash card which lives on my work table, on a two gigabyte SanDisk card which lives in the same place, and online as a series of e-mail attachments, which should survive even if we have a really big earthquake here in Yokohama, and Japan sinks.

But there was a lot of stuff I didn't back up, including all the stuff relating to play sites that I'd been researching. Plus a lot of work I'd done on book covers.

So I was severely worried when, Monday, before I headed to the daycare, the computer started locking up on me. Repeatedly rebooting it did not fix the problem. Plainly, it was crisis time. I decided it was time to back up the data that still needed saving, then revert to factory conditions.

But I couldn't back up.

I plugged in my USB floppy disk drive and tried to copy my passwords file to a floppy. I'd made some changes and, if I lost that file, I wouldn't be able to recover the alterations from my porous memory. But nothing would copy to the floppy.

Finally, as Daycare Hour drew near, I tried what I thought might be my last shot. I plugged in my USB portable hard disk drive, which is enormously larger than the hard disk that I have on the computer, and took a shot at dragging and dropping the entire MY DOCUMENTS file.

While I was on my way home from the daycare, I kept thinking about whether this would or would not work, and what a hassle it would be if I ended up with my data minutely mutilated in dozens of tiresome ways.

When I went upstairs to my personal room, I found MY DOCUMENTS had disappeared from the computer's hard drive, and was now on the portable drive. I unplugged the portable drive, rebooted, and started the procedure whereby the computer reinstalls everything, OS and base software, from a repository on the hard disk.

While I was downstairs having dinner, the computer got the basic work done, and I was then able to spend most of the night customizing my new XP installation and installing key software.

I had planned on getting a good night's sleep to be nice and fresh for Tuesday's main event, my first trip to the dentist since my return to Japan. I hadn't been to the dentist for well over a year, and there was no telling what might have happened.

But I decided to get the computer set up that night.

Although I have a handwritten guide that I put together which details exactly how to customize and what to install in what order, I thought I could probably get by without it. So, without looking at my notes, I plunged into the task. I found it more difficult than anticipated, and ended up doing a lot of exploratory clicking around.

That which does not destroy me makes me stronger, and every time XP has taken a shot at trashing my life I've acquired more expertise by fighting back. This time, by sheer accident, I ended up performing the following procedure:

START -> SETTINGS -> CONTROL PANEL -> DISPLAY -> SETTINGS -> ADVANCED ... and now you can change dots-per-inch from the default 96 dpi or (as I chose to do) to 120 dpi, in effect magnifying everything on the screen. (You can also choose to make a custom setting.)

As usual, I'd set my LCD screen to display at 800 x 600, and this, coupled with the 120 dpi setting, makes a pretty good combination. I have given up on using the XP magnifier, and I don't think I will use it in future. Most of the stuff I can see on screen with my spectacles, and it's more convenient just to pick up my magnifying glass rather than mess with the magnifier.

Because I'd spent most of the night sitting up working on the computer, I was pretty wrecked by the time I arrived at the dentist's to keep a 1500 appointment. But, as Woody Allen says, ninety percent of life is just about showing up.

Sitting in the chair, I was happy. My system was up and functional. No eye candy. A lean, austere installation, with everything simplified, right down to minor little adjustments such as immediately deleting deleted files rather than gunking up the computer by keeping garbage in the recycle bin.

A female technician worked on my teeth for more than an hour, scraping away tartar then polishing them.

She didn't speak any English, but that wasn't a problem. I get by. Once I was in the chair, the first thing she said was a sentence I didn't really hear properly, but I did catch the words "hidari te," meaning "left hand," so I knew, from the context, that she was telling me to raise my left hand if it hurt.

When you're out in the real world, your functional grasp of a foreign language becomes much better than it does in the classroom, because context clarifies. If you enter a hotel and walk up to the front desk, for example, they already know, pretty much, why you're here and what you want them to do for you, without you so much as opening your mouth. In real life, nobody needs to set up the situation for you so the conversation can get going. The situation supplies itself, and so you're on the right track before you even start speaking. Or listening, as the case may be.

Regarding the question of pain, a couple of times a sharp point slid into some tender meat which it shouldn't have been digging into, but I can't say that I was actually in pain, and I didn't need to raise my hand.

After the technician was done, my English-speaking dentist dropped by and asked me when I'd been last. I thought perhaps as long ago as 2004. The reason he asked was that they have gone and lost my records.

I am still on the books, and, when I phoned to make an appointment, it took the receptionist less than ten seconds to locate me on the computer. I delivered a surname, "Kukku," and she came up with the personal name, "Hyu," almost immediately after I had given her the surname. But my records, those they've lost.

No problem. My dental details I can comfortably keep in my head. My mouth is more or less defect-free, with only three items to keep track of, all in the lower left jaw. First, on the far left, there's an old-fashioned mercury amalgam filling. Sitting next to that there's a palladium filling I had done at the Numabe clinic. And along side that there's a cap (alternatively called a crown) replacing half a tooth which broke off when I was in New Zealand. It broke when I was eating spaghetti, of all things, and the necessary repair work was eventually done at Northcross Dental Solutions at Browns Bay, north of the city of Auckland.

This happy result, only three mouth defects, is a testament to the virtues of going through childhood with a daily dose of fluoride, which is what I did all through my childhood. Our water supply was not fluoridated, but my mother religiously fed each of her children a fluoride tablet every day of our childhood lives, and at this stage I'm expecting my teeth to last pretty much as long as I do, unless they come down with cancer or something horrible like that.

My Numabe dentist told me I should have six-monthly checks for my health, and that he would send me a letter in December.

The dentist that I go to is at Numabe, one stop from Tamagawa. Once you arrive at Numabe station, the route to the clinic is a little bit complicated and I hadn't been there since, I guess, 2004. Even so, I remembered the way.

These days, I can't learn new things easily but I remember stuff that I learnt in the old days. All kinds of stuff. Everything from teaching techniques to transit routes.

For this reason, I prefer to visit places that I have been to in the past rather than venturing to entirely new places. This summer, we plan to take a two-night break at the beach, and I very strongly wished for us to return to Chikura Kan, a beachside hotel in a place called Chikura.

And this, all going well, is what we will do.

It's a hotel from which you can reach the beach without crossing a road, and I had absolutely no interest in going to the alternative hotel my wife suggested, one which has its own private outdoor pool.

When you're living in the land of the mentally damaged, it's appropriate, I think, to make concessions to your condition.

Although I am mentally damaged, this has done absolutely nothing to increase my tolerance for people who are in the same condition.

After I resumed teaching English at Waniguchi Gakko about a year ago, I had many occasion to reflect on just how badly damaged some of the students were.

In many cases, the students are simply old, and CRS has set in, big time. In a significant proportion of cases, however, they are mentally ill. I noted on one file recently that one student had been treated because she was "melancholic," a Japanese staffer's way of translating the Japanese for "depressed" into English. (Probably a translation for which one of those wretched electronic dictionaries beloved of Japanese students of English is responsible.)

After I first started teaching for the same Japanese conversation company about ten years ago, I eventually found out that a certain number of students were taking English lessons because a medical practitioner, thinking that they needed therapy, advised them to take conversation classes.

The point here is that while Japan does have some counseling services available, there is less of a tradition of counseling in Japan than there is in the West, and so the conversation school ends up filling a niche in the mental health system, though that is not what it is designed to do, and a lot of the Westerners who teach at the company are oblivious to the fact that they are, in a primitive and accidental way, mental health professionals. Or perhaps that should be reworded as "mental health unprofessionals."

And, never having had the ambition to work with the mentally impaired, I've found that, in the long run, I simply grow tired of having them in my life. People who, for reasons of computational deficit or psychological disability, are virtually unteachable. Water off a duck's back, that's what teaching English is for them.

The one and single mentally damaged person I find tolerable is myself. Of course, I don't have a choice. But I've learnt to live with myself, and I figure that we get along together okay, the living me and the residual shadow of my former self.

As I've been writing this, I've had the physical version of my todo list sitting on the floor beside me. There is also a computerized version, which deals with more long-term things.

The physical memo has, amongst other notations, these: haircut, supermarket shopping, shoe laces.

I will do supermarket shopping because my wife will have computer training all day at work, and will come home exhausted, so I will cook. This means I can shop for exactly what I want to eat, but not for melons. Melons are in season now, but, unfortunately, we have just discovered that daughter Cornucopia is allergic to them, and gets a red rash over her mouth if she eats them.

In the supermarket, the food is downstairs but there is a clothing section upstairs, and that's where I hope to buy shoe laces.

Before returning to Japan, I bought two pairs of black business shoes in New Zealand. The brand is Julius Marlow, and they've served me very well. If it's been raining, I prefer them to my outdoor adventure shoes, because they have a great grip, and so are safer.

But, after a year of heavy use, the shoe laces are getting frayed, and I think it's time to replace them.

As for the haircut, summer has pretty much arrived, and I want to get my hair trimmed back in the interests of cooling down my scalp.

To wrap up, let me address the photo at the top of this blog entry. It features a spider.

The brave photographer who took the snapshot of the spider is my wife, the valorous Murasaki Nishikawa.

The spider goes by the name of Hector, the name of one of the heroes who fought to defend the city of Troy when it was attacked by the Greeks (or, if your scholarship prefers, when it was attacked by the Argives.) Hector has chosen to live in our house, and it seems we're going to have him around for the foreseeable future.

My wife first encountered Hector when she came downstairs early one morning and found him splayed out on the living room wall. She got one hell of a shock. Her eyesight is much better than mine, and she reckons that, at full stretch, legs splayed, he spans something in the order of ten centimeters.

I wasn't sure what we should do in the aftermath of this encounter. Call the cops? Phone the Ministry of Agriculture? Call in Chemical Ali?

What my wife did was to talk with a coworker about the spider, and the coworker apparently succeeded in convincing my wife that the spider was totally harmless.

In a subsequent discussion, I told my wife that we have similar spiders, large but harmless, in Auckland, New Zealand. In my lifetime they've commonly been referred to as Avondale spiders, after a rash of Extremely Large Spider incidents took place in the Auckland suburb of Avondale. But actually they're not from Avondale. Rather, they're from Australia, and were blown all the way to New Zealand by the wind.

You might think that's an improbably long way to be blown, given that it takes three hours by jet plane to travel from Australia to New Zealand, but stuff from the Australian skies definitely reaches New Zealand. While staying in Devonport in New Zealand at a time when a substantial fraction of Australia was on fire, with bush fires having been blazing for some days, I saw a pink tinge in the sky at sunset which was the interplay of our local light with smoke sourced in the far-off land of Oz.

During the above-mentioned discussion about the spider, my wife told me that Hector was a good spider, because he would eat insects.

I personally didn't think that we have any insects in the house which need the attentions of quite such a large spider to devour them. But, be that as it may, Hector has joined our happy little household setup.

On the evening of Tuesday 26 June, my wife brought me somewhat disturbing news. Hector has migrated from a dimly lit corner of the downstairs living room to the downstairs toilet. She put it to me that this news was "scary." And I agreed. Yes, scary. Very.

On a completely different note, here is a throw-away idea which occurred to me on the morning of Wednesday 27 June, as I was reflecting on the controversy surrounding the knighthood given to Salman Rushdie.

Obviously the confrontation between Islam and the West is heating up, and the idea that occurred to me was that one way to address this problem might be a homestay system in which people went to foreign countries during their high school years and were exposed to the Other.

This idea probably came to me because, while teaching at Waniguchi Gakko, I've often discussed homestay experiences with Japanese students of English, and it's become clear that some found these homestays culturally illuminating. Particularly the woman who, as I mentioned in an earlier post, showed up at her homestay house in America, and, as a priority, was shown where the household gun lived, and was shown how to use it.

So, while there would be obvious risks and difficulties in setting up some kind of systematic reciprocal homestay relationship between Islamic countries and Western countries, I don't see this as being impossible.

And, in my view, it's a positive idea, and surely there would be plenty of other positive ideas that we in the West could come up with if we were to approach the problem of our relationship with the Islamic community in a constructive idea. Which I don't think we are.

I haven't looked online to see if any such West-Islam homestay arrangements actually take place, so perhaps they do already. If so, I can't lay claim to having originated a new idea. But I can say that this came to me as a consequence of idle cogitating, without any actual effort, and so I think that if the collective mind of the West was focused on the problem of cross-cultural relationships, there would be more ideas along analogous lines, and the situation would start getting better instead of getting progressively worse.

Back in the 1980s, I accidentally ended up having an Islamic homestay of my own when I visited Morocco, and my account of this homestay, which bears the title HUGH MEETS MOHAMMAD, can be found online at:

Yeah, I actually met Mohammad. And he took me home with him.

My general comments on Islam, jihad and the war between religions can be accessed from the following page:


Blogger Jack said...

A lovely piece of info!

Work from home :

7:47 PM  

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