Friday, 20 April 2012


On Saturday I’ll have kept this blog going for 6 months, which is about 5 more than I thought I’d achieve when I started. Well done me. After 3 years at my last school, I also got transferred to a new one this month (which is why my comment responses have been a little sporadic, new schedule and all). Given all that, it seems like a good time to take stock, give some thanks, and indulge in a little bit of self-absorbed introspection. Like that’s not what this isn’t all about anyway.

There's something I've been meaning to tell you...

Firstly, some thanks. I write this blog mainly for myself, but clearly that’s not the whole of it or I’d just keep a private diary. There are several reasons I’m putting all this out there and the people who read what I write are greatly valued, those of you who comment even more so. I was lucky enough to catch the attention of both Chris and Ant early on. I’d like to think I’d have kept this up without any attention, but knowing people were reacting to it sealed the deal. So thanks for that, guys.

Thanks also to my small but intelligent and witty band of other regular commenters and readers; Kathryn, Will, Mr Salaryman, and I know Bobby’s lurking out there as well. If you’re new to the party, well come. I’d be overselling it if I said you alone made it worthwhile, but you definitely make it better.

Old, Fat(ter) Norm says cheers too.

And so on to the introspection. In the interests of practicing what I preach regarding methods and outcomes, let’s break it down a bit. The basic point of this blog is as it says in the mission statement, to actually produce something instead of simply consuming. But, as ever, it's really a little more complicated than that.

I teach English in Japanese high schools. It’s fair to say that the level of English I use on a day-to-day basis isn’t the highest. While my wife is fluent, the practicalities of actually living our lives don’t exactly lend themselves to philosophical discussion in high-register English. “Would you perchance cleanse our progeny’s posterior of that unsightly ordure, my dearest, lest it flows mightily down his inner leg and coruscates all over the fucking carpet?”

My son’s no better. He enjoys making fart noises with his lips. I’m so proud.

Thus, the style of writing I use here is deliberately idiomatic and high-falutin’. I don’t speak like this in real life (well, maybe a bit). It’s an effort to keep my hand in; actually sitting down and knocking out a couple of thousand words every week means I have to engage with the language in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Cryptic crosswords are fun and all, but as skills go they’re still fairly receptive.

When I’m at work I have to communicate slowly and clearly. That’s no bad thing, but part of the reduction in speed is because I’m having to take more time to choose my words. I can’t always say what I mean, but I have to select the nearest approximation I think people will understand.

Explaining complex matters simply is a very valuable skill, but the aspects of language I’m most involved with are so grimly utilitarian. ELT necessarily strips out all but the most fundamental requirements for transmission of ideas, and that means you lose all the nuance and flavour which provide the beauty and fun. The language I use every day is very efficient, but then so is lard. Maximum calories, minimum space. Sometimes I want a decent meal prepared by someone with Michelin stars, and I occasionally like to flatter myself that I’m quite a good cook, too.

When I was in the sixth-form, one of the girls I had a bit of a crush on accused me of ‘loving the sound of my own voice’. Despite this handicap, I eventually managed to get off with her at the End of Year Ball, silken tongued charmer that I am (she was battered). It was though the first time I’d heard the term, and it cut a little deep.

Obviously it’s not true in the most literal sense. You’d have to be a total narcissist to actually enjoy the sound of your own voice. I have to record listening tests for work, but I’ll always try to find an excuse to be elsewhere when they’re being played back. It’s a fair indicator of serious personality problems if you can listen to a recording of your own voice without flinching like a man who’s just caught his glans in a sliding door.

She wasn’t wrong figuratively though. I do have a slightly unfortunate tendency to talk at people. It’s got better as I’ve got older, with all the reduced certainty and pig-headedness which aging brings, but you’ve still got to let it our somewhere.

Internet forums are dangerous. Populated by trolls, idiots, and moderators with Napoleon complexes. For all that I know this, and you know this too, I’ve still found myself on far too many occasions at one in the morning engaged in an absurdly petty argument about fishing quotas with a teenager from Nipplewhack, Idaho.

Plus it’s wholly reactive. You’re dependent on what other people say. Someone writes a piece, and that - if you ignore the half-a-dozen twats all claiming 'First!' - is what sets the parameters for the discussion, until someone mentions Hitler and then you really should stop paying attention. For all that it’s fun and necessary to pick holes in other people’s ideas and work, it takes a certain confidence to put original stuff out there in the first place, to be the person setting those parameters. As I’m finding out, it’s harder than it looks.

For all that I love the English language, prior to starting this blog the only lengthy bits of writing I’d ever produced were academic. They were usually fairly well received, but they were also very specifically goal based. The aims here are more amorphous. Trying to work out exactly what that voice I’m apparently so fond of sounds like, being one.

I think I’ve found one that feels like a good fit, but I’m going to keep trying the odd experiment or two with form, style, and structure. Some work, some don’t really. Just in terms of presentation though I think I've travelled a fair distance from day one. One of the sure signs that a long running sitcom is close to jumping the shark is when it starts doing two-part specials, so the three-parter I did a couple of weeks back may prove to be one of the less successful experiments.

The aim is to produce one ‘substantive’ piece a week. Not long necessarily, but something which I’ve put a bit of thought and effort into. The rest isn’t just filler, but does serve more personal purposes. I read quickly, so the book posts are in part an effort make sure I don’t skim and make me think a bit. The cake pictures are because I like cake. So far I’ve usually been putting the ‘main’ post up on a Friday, but I’m considering toying with that a bit. I’m also aiming for three posts a week because of that ‘make myself think’ thing, again. But I’m thinking of toying with that a bit, too.

Whether any of it appeals to you is another matter. I am genuinely interested in what you think of the stuff here, and welcome feedback (even on the layout. I like the background pic for my own reasons, but I’ve no idea how it looks to first time visitors). This is a very personal endeavor though, so I’m going to exercise that privilege of setting the parameters and retain the casting vote. I’m completely open to criticism and suggestion, but ultimately the only person I really have to please is myself.

There’s more, but those are the main bits. I like to talk, to write, and it’s time to actually put some stuff out there and see whether it flies or not.

Heh. I said 'Künst'.


  1. "I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself."
    - Montaigne

    More comments later.

    1. A Montaigne quote for your posting about blogging is an obvious choice. I have 'The Essays' on my desk. No, I have not read them yet...

      Thanks for mentioning me. As for mentioning Chris, well, I bet we both owe him a lot of traffic, and his posts add to the discussion. Everybody always says this about Chris, 'he's not to everyone's tastes, but...' so I'll try to do something different: if he's not to your own tastes, is it because of what he says, or because you can't deal with addressing what he says? I don't always agree with him, but when I don't I can address why and am fine with it.

      There are a lot of blogs in Japan. Speaking simple English to spouses and students, your only outlets are drink and blogging.

      I keep reading yours, and I keep it up on my blogroll. Like you, I write mine so that I can express thoughts deeper than I do with the students at my Int'l school. As for sharing with staff, this is not a staff I'm intellectually dazzled by, or be wise to trust. I am blessed (and cursed) with a native wife whose English is very good, but she doesn't need to hear me dissect everything wrong with her country, or mine. That just makes her anxious about where we can live that will make me happy... An Arts degree teaches you rhetoric, if you did it right, and then you are sent into a world that puts no value on these skills.

      Nothing wrong with liking the sound of your own voice. We are all guilty, including people who have nothing to say, and in a minute vocabulary: we're called us arrogant because they won't address that we do it better. 'Arrogant' is a concept that needs to be split in English: 'arrogance' backed by ability, and 'arrogance' without enough. You don't have to like either, but they are not the same thing.

    2. Now you see, I'd only describe the latter as arrogance. The former would be 'justifiably high self confidence'. Either way, it hinges on your ability to back it up.

      Yeah, Chris is a major traffic source, though calling anything to do with my traffic 'major' is overstating it (see below). You might disagree with him to begin with, and you might still disagree with him at the end, but he has pretty clear and coherent rules of engagement, so getting from start to finish won't have been a wasted effort.

      I think that's key. There's limited value in engaging with people who see the world exactly as you do, but if you don't share any basics whatsoever you're always going to be at cross purposes. So much of what I write here is about getting to those basics. Hopefully.

  2. Well-written, interesting posts make a blog. Bad layout and cheezy features can all be forgiven if the writing's good.

    Which it is.

    Here, I mean...

    1. Thanks, I think ;)

      Bad layout and cheezy features? I'm genuinely curious if that's in general or specific to me. I have absolutely no eye for this kind of stuff, so really won't take offence if you don't like it. It's just a standard blogger template, though I think I may have played with the widths a bit. All advice gratefully accepted.

  3. One substantial piece a week? I really should try that myself, if only I weren't so damn busy. I need to read your blog more often. And I wish I could read faster. At least I get to speak higher level English with some students. My wife isn't high level, but decent enough for me to communicate with on complex matters, but I still have to dumb my language down a bit for her. It's hard on my own ability to speak, though I do get practice with other native English speakers that I work with.

    Well, I'm going to browse around your blog for a bit now.

    1. It's an aspiration, more than a definite condition. Up until March I was in a settled position which meant carving out little pockets of time was fairly simple. We'll see how that holds up over the next couple of months, as I've got to build another curriculum from the ground up.

      Not everything I write for this ends up getting posted, but the act or writing itself is as important as the final post. In theory, at least...

  4. #1 Is that Fonzie jumping the Shark?? :)

    #2 Thanks for the mention!! Your blog was a gem of a find which was about the same day as Hanlonz...that was a very good week for my blogroll which is my Twitter/F.B.

    You'll always have and get more commenters because you write well, respond regardless of responses generated and you can hear others over the sound of your own mind.

    Loco destroyed himself by not doing that last part well. Does he care? Yeah...of course he does. When you try to appeal to everyone your appealing to no one....he learned that and I almost made the same mistake. He's published and his books basis was the most epic series I have ever read. I didn't promote the book though because the gems were the responses not the posts. I know my rants would be just that if not for the comments that come from folks who see it different from me and can say so without going bezerk or releasing their passive aggressive scent so strongly I can smell it through my fucking monitor. I facilitate a discussion at my best.

    Some bloggers get big and forget the foundation...the commenters that got em there. I will never make THAT mistake...others maybe but not THAT one ;)

    Happy 6 months!!

    1. It is indeed. Fonzie the best/worst example of a show running out of ideas -

      Prior to starting this blog I never really thought of the comments as an essential part of the whole experience. On larger sites it's so often just people shouting their own ideas at each other again and again, which made them easy to dismiss.

      I also think I got fairly skewed expectations early on, because for a while at the start you and Ant comprised pretty much all my readership, so I thought that most people who visited would comment. Now I'm getting more than half-a-dozen hits a day I realise how fortunate I was.

      But that's the conflict. Obviously getting wider exposure is good, but the more people who come, the more likely it is they'll include some of those shouty idiots. I'd happily take a modest number of people who can actually contribute (see my reply to Ant above).

      Not that I'm anywhere close to having to worry about overexposure yet...

    2. What is censorship and what is protecting the quality and keeping the ship on course?...Hardest choice. No one wants to see someone just hurling insults. Personally speaking if they at least touch the topic of the post I'll allow a insult through but if they cannot at least read more than the title or get stimulated by the pics then they go in the garbage. I have 400+ comments that are garbage....I just deleted one 2 minutes ago because the poster who has commented b4 just said

      "what is the point of this post?"

      I wanna say "Read the fucking thing and try....guess even!!" but was easier to delete.

      I can admire well written "Fuck you's" directed at me but just a "Fuck you"?...I can get that on any forum.

    3. Yeah, if you're going to throw insults then at least do it with some style. The effort put in to it might be better spent actually arguing the point, but at least effort went in. In many ways it's the laziness which is more offensive. Why bother commenting at all?

      'What's the point of this post?' What's the point of that comment?

  5. Witnessing the "growth and change" is one of the things I value most, sometimes because it simply takes so long. Imagine watching the Grand Canyon form, day after day, year after year. Or maybe not. Your three-parter is one fine piece. Yes, it is a little different from your others, but it (or you) says what needs to be said. You are bright, have the gift of a decent education that you most likely earned, and have only made one typo I can recall reading (not going to guess if you were drinking at the time, because I think you slurred that you were). You actually can write like a writer. It shows. Obviously.

    I also appreciate the fact that I am this distance.

    Just be you.

    The background pic gives your blog a genuine roughness that expresses a capacity to appreciate those little unexpected gems life pelts us with.

    1. Was the typo anything I could hand-wave away as British/American English confusion? It's how I normally deal with errors in class...

      You're more than tolerated. I have to confess that a lot of the time I've no idea what you're on about, but that's what keeps it interesting. It's no fun if it's too easy.

    2. "A lot of the time I've no idea what you're on about." That's a relief! I thought it might be me who had reading-comprehension issues at Will's blog. Will, don't take that the wrong way. You've got a unique and interesting voice, and you don't need to alter that for me. I do sometimes feel like I do when listening to Japanese: the subject and the object are what?

    3. I should clarify that too, it wasn't intended as a criticism at all.

      The Japanese analogy is appropriate. Just as I still have to to 'turn on' my Japanese, reading Will's blog is something I have to make a conscious effort to shift gears for. And is all the better for it.

    4. 'Kamo', you need to read my latest post. I think it may apply to you. You have kids, right?

    5. Just caught on to this guys. Look, to be blunt, most of my thinking is very compact in the sense that it can be unraveled if I have to explain it. Meaning is there. It does follow logic, and to some extent, tradition (even in a 'cannonized sense'). Though, lexically, it is challenging. I don't expect anyone to get it easily (and I would be a little leery of those who actually go all the way and try). Chris follows, for the most part, but even he has suggested I make it more accessible (he didn't quite say it that way...Gotta love the guy... Yeah, I said love).

      I understand that what I write is not always going to be easily understood, even if I actually take time to edit the technical issues of punctuation as well as some grammar.

      Breakin' it down just ain't me. Not here. Not in this one pseudo-imaginary space where I can be me. My daily job is so s-v-o that it does things to me.

      "I've no idea what you're on about"

      (okay folks, this is the take-it-or-leave-it part of the comment)

      If truth be told, I've read fewer than four-hundred books in my lifetime (yes, I actually indexed them). Even, out of all of those, I'm not sure I really, truly understood a single one. Yeah, from 'Janet and Mark' to 'Hi, My Name is Loco."

      But...with the magic of Internet, I am now able to access just about any published debate, comments, and 'whatever' about all of them (the books). To me, that is fascinating. Issac Asimov, Omni, Wired, Q1, and everything else... (David 8?)

      And that kind of 'fascinating' feeling is a kind that only gets more intense with age. A feeling that gets more intense as others wither and matter less (so they say, despite sildenafil citrate's increasing demand).


      Conscious effort...I do appreciate the fact that the effort is given.

      And I do appreciate that I am, if nothing more, peripheral. My life is not main event material. My ego has been 'hockey-checked' from the get go. For that, I express gratitude for what the experience has enabled me to see what is going on around me.

      Nothing in my posts is done to intentionally confuse, obfuscate, or make myself appear any more intelligent than I am not.


      If you google 'cannonized sense', you are not going to find much, but it might be interesting...

    6. Peripheral? You do yourself a disservice.

      There's a Robert Frost poem in one of the textbooks this year. One of the JTEs asked me what it meant. There followed a 20 minute discussion touching on, among other things, why 'gold' doesn't mean 'gold' necessarily, and why the a pun about Eden doesn't work in British English. I had a whale of a time, and to her credit I think the JTE did too.

      Dense is good. Unpicking and unpacking stuff is good. I don't care if it's deliberate or not, as long as it's interesting. As I say, I get the basics every day so would like to aim a little higher when I can.

  6. Replies
    1. You're like a ninja. If I can see you, then you're not really there ;)

  7. Been meaning to link you for so long! Sorry, I'm on it!

    1. No need to apologise. I'm flattered that you're even thinking about it :)

  8. I just found this blog. Doh. It's nice. I too wish I could use bigger words after 17 years in the Japanese school system. Good on you for having this space to practice your joined-up writing again.
    I love writing my blog.
    It's basic English but I get such joy from merely typing out my silly pontifications on a daily basis, like what I'm doing now.
    I'll be back to this blog, that is for sure.

  9. Ah ha, I just realised why I've never seen this blog before. It was because Corrine hadn't linked you yet! Bad girl, Corrine! ;)

    1. Thanks for popping by. Glad you like the place.

      Corrine is, of course, entitled to link to who she likes. I'm just grateful she's chosen to do so for me. however belatedly ;)

      Trouble is, with all the traffic that she's been funnelling my way over the last week, I'm actually going to have to start to pay attention to what I say. Nice problem to have, though.

  10. Recently discovered Corrine, which led me here. I've been working though in reverse order from September, splendid stuff.

    1. Thanks.

      Corrine's something else, isn't she? I clearly don't have the balls to be half as open as she is. But glad you like the place nonetheless. Feel free to comment on anything that catches your eye.