Feb 21, 2018

the soft closing

I'm planning on ending this blog.

Not with a big closeout with a lot of fanfare but just letting it go quietly dormant, until a few years down the road, Google is going through old web apps remembers it has this blogging platform they totally forgot about and they pull the plug for good.

It's a good moment to end- it feels like a major chapter of my life has ended, and a new one begun. A new book even. I started blogging in 2003 as a way to keep relatives informed about how I was doing and feeling in undergraduate, and it transitioned into a travel blog when I traveled, went pretty dormant for the time I was working after I graduated, and kicked up again a bit in graduate school.

Education comes in good life-sized chunks- when I graduated, my education at an end, that was a definitive end to one chapter of my life. The next five years made up another chapter, loosely titled, Alec Gets Started where I traveled, developed myself professionally, made some big personal and relationship moves, and ended up ready to dig in and stay awhile. At the end of that tumultuous five years, I was married, living in a city I could see myself staying in for awhile, setting up all the adult things for the long term, and with a baby on the way.

We're still sort of settling in, but it's the long, slow growth of roots rather than the rapid adjustment to a replanting. With the birth of Momoko, we're in a new book entirely. Functionally, I don't think I'm going to have time to blog, but I think it's time for a change of medium anyway.

I'll still figure out a way to write, since it still has cathartic and metaprocessing purposes for me, but I think it's safe to say this blog is at an end. Blogger really does suck as a platform, and the only reason I didn't change years ago, was the ability I had to go back and read what I wrote so many years ago.

Many thanks to the devoted readers who stuck around and still checked back, while I let months go by between blog posts. As I write this, Momo is beginning to stir and fuss in her bouncer, so I'll keep it short.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Feb 13, 2018

final weeks

Yesterday, Saori walked to her midwifery appointment with Coco, and learned she was already one centimeter dilated. We both had the same reaction: how many hours do we have before Saori goes into real labor?! Coco's response was basically, it could be anytime between now and four weeks (or two weeks after Saori's due date). While it's disappointing to get such an ambiguous answer, at least Wildbad is looking good and healthy, if not still a little on the tiny side than we'd all really like her to be.

We're coming to the end of pregnancy, and I must say that my experience, and very much of Saori's experience, pregnancy itself seems like a good warm-up for parenthood. Kids, I hear, are not cheap, and we're ramping up spending on stuff for baby, spending on medical bills, and tightening up everything else as a consequence. Saori has to wake up three to four times a night go to the bathroom, and usually that wakes me up (lightly, I get to immediately fall back asleep), but it's getting us ready for feeding and changing and living with debilitating sleep deprivation.

There's a new urgency and focus to our lives. We're planning more now than we have ever before. Both the long term and short term have a new weight and reality to them. Pregnancy forces us to plan the things we used to do spontaneously. Saori can't just jump up and throw on her clothes and we go out to dinner or meet me downtown for a movie- she can't walk that far, she tires easily, and she's got to rest a lot and use the bathroom constantly. I imagine I could easily have the same comments about Wildbad when she gets here. Life in Germany slowly crushed the spontaneity out of my life, and pregnancy put the nail in the coffin.

Right now, I'm mostly tired. I don't worry so much about all the things that could go wrong with childbirth as much as I worry about being able to remember everything I should be doing, and being an active and vocal fighter for my wife and baby. We still don't have a car, which bothers me. Part of it is we don't really know what the final bill is going to be from the hospital, and I want to make sure we're prepared to deal with that financially before I commit to several hundred dollars a month in car payments, insurance, and gas. Part of it is just inertia from trying to figure out everything else at the same time.

In some ways, I wish we could have had Wildbad sooner because I'm sort of getting used to the life here, and a baby will be another huge shake up. My coworkers were so apologetic and amazed at how unflappable I was at the breakup of the old office and the foundation of the new office- and I wanted to tell them, please, that was a ripple.

On the other hand, we've used our time here strategically- finding a family friendly office and home, looking for midwives and hospitals, and most importantly focusing on making friends and building a network of supporters and cheerleaders. Even moving very quickly, establishing a local social network is time and energy intensive. We are extremely lucky however, that I come across as warm and sincere, and most people fall immediately in love with Saori.

Although the preparation I go through to get ready for a new baby, attending classes, reading, decorating, picking out books to read to Wildbad, and especially assembling the crib forces me to think about the reality of being a father (make this tight so she can't shake it apart, is there a gap between the mattress and the frame she could get into?) I still struggle to visualize the totality of what my life will be like with Wildbad.

Feb 1, 2018


We got cable tv when we moved to Portland because it was the only way to get JapanTV, and it also let us bundle our cell phones and internet into one package. We have basic cable which is say we get all the home shopping networks, plus NBC, and a couple of HBO channels tossed in. Saori is more of a TV person than I am, so she usually tunes into what's on JapanTV. JapanTV is sort of like if you condensed PBS, Discovery, and NBC into one channel and gave each of them particular time slots, broadcast to Japan. An upshot of that is right around my bedtime, there's often sumo wrestling tournaments.

There's something about it which seems to fit the late night. Before I moved to Portland, I never gave sumo much thought. I think you have to know a little about Japanese culture to even be able to crack open the door to appreciating sumo wrestling. I used to see wrestlers posing and posturing and throwing salt? sand? sugar? and it looks like they're going to face off and wrestle, but they don't. And it's ages until they throw themselves at each other and someone gets dramatically (but more often, not so dramatically) pushed out of the ring. It reminded me of golf, which I find to be so fantastically boring I used to use is a sleep aid- watching a golf tournament in my mind.

There are some similarities actually between golf and sumo wrestling, which goes back to why I was watching it in the first place. There is a lot of ritual, a lot of contemplative expectation followed by a crisp action, and then more thoughtful evaluation. The beat of golf and sumo is slow, slow, slow. I watched sumo to get my mind into the slow beat before bedtime.

But the odd thing was that more I watched Sumo, the less boring it became- I became fascinated by the striking contrast I was watching.

No question, one thing I enjoy about Sumo is the contest- a struggle of two really powerful dudes fighting against each other with a mixture of strategy and strength. If a rhino fought an elephant, who would change the channel? Beyond those short fights, mostly under 30 seconds, there is a lot more.

Architecturally, for these competitions, the sumo ring is a compacted mound of dirt in the middle of a vast, grungy functionalist arena under a meticulously constructed wooden canopy of a Shinto shrine decorated with braided silk ropes and calligraphy banners, and you would know that this whole roof assembly was created by the top traditional artisans in Japan.

The clothes people wear are equally contrasting- as an event appealing to a particular age and income group, the crowd dresses more formally, business attire when it isn't more traditional Japanese robes. Everyone involved with the wrestling has their own special uniform dictated by hundreds of years of tradition, from the guy who hands the water ladle to the wrestlers to the main referee, who is magnificently attired and accessorized to the point that he looks like a work of exquisite origami. The contrast in form and color and shape then, of this walking origami with the fleshy sculpted blobs of near-nudity of the wrestlers who join him on the wrestling mound. Crisp, mindbogglingly expensive silk and tailoring, concealing the human form within angular folds of fabric, juxtaposed with an extreme of human fleshiness. The extreme of artifice and the extreme of nature.

These three figures form immediate compositions which can be very formal, nearly symmetrical as the two wrestlers go through their rituals on either side of the referee, to a point of pure symmetry, which happens to be the breaking point: both wrestlers must touch their fists to the ground before they can attack each other. It lasts a fraction of a moment: often one will plant fists, and the other will with the lightest dip touch the ground before exploding at each other. As the wrestlers struggle around the ring, the referee lightly dances around them, keeping an eye on the rope ring and changing his angles.

What I also find fascinating is the culture of the athletes. Pro-athlete in America usually means "excess." There is a reason we use the word "baller." You struggle from a young age to make it to the big leagues because that's where the money is (and there's money too in wrestling, no mistake) and for the lifestyle. For the VIP tables at the club. For the second house. For the cars. Sumo wrestlers have to adopt a very severe lifestyle which sounds not unlike a religious novice. Communal living, early rising, service to the organization and serving senior wrestlers, severe prohibitions on what is and what is not permitted to be worn. Sumo wrestlers aren't allowed to drive and most of them can only go in public wearing special basic cotton robes. And foreigners come to Japan, learn Japanese, adopt Japanese custom and manners precisely to take part in the Sumo wrestling culture. To my eyes, there is little idiosyncracy in Sumo- you don't bring your "style" or national "way of doing things" to the sport. Even the way the hair is worn is closely prescribed: there is only one way allowed (per rank).

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...