I had an interesting experience with a med student this week while I was in for one of my frequent clinic visits. He was researching impacts of poor health on individuals and their coping mechanisms, and he asked me a question I had not even really thought about: "how do you handle having medical conditions that are not common for persons your age?" I realized in that moment how often I had heard (from the upward of one hundred doctors and other health care workers I've interacted with over the past few years) that it's very strange to see my kind of spinal disease and arthritis in someone "so young" (I'm 34).
I had to think on the spot as it's not something I really had considered. Of all the things my depression causes me to wallow in, my physical health is rarely something I brood over. My answer appeared to surprise and delight this young man that was interviewing me, and that answer was "these things happen." Maybe it's because I had an injury at work I can point to. Maybe it's because sometimes there is no good answer for these things. I mean, really, it's not entirely unlike asking why kids get cancer. I have never had a point at which I've reflected on why I have such poor health. It's just there, and I can't control that right now. What I can control is how I respond to it. I get the requisite medical attention, and I've been working at losing weight.
I haven't really faced the possibility that I may never work full time again. That I may not be fully independent again. Perhaps if that time comes, I will face it, and I might lose some of my optimism. But, for now, it's "these things happen." And I'll continue to fight it.
A little while ago, the lovely Goddess asked about culture coming through when studying language. One of the things that's very difficult to translate into English (and is thus blog-worthy) is all the nuance that gets packed into the language in a very compact way. I'll provide a couple of examples looking at names and pronouns.
Anyone who has heard even a little bit of Japanese conversation has heard the "san" (さん) suffix. It's a default appellation that most closely translates in English to "miss/ms./mrs." or "mister." It is put on the end of a name, so Tanaka-san, or John-san. It's used when addressing someone of similar social standing (i.e., not your upperclassman, boss or governor, and not a child). One of the great things is, it's also used in address when unsure of the addressee's social rank. When using it with someone one isn't familiar with, it carries the connotation of "I'm presently unaware of how you should be properly be addressed, so please forgive me if you are deserving of a more polite honorific." So much nuance in one short syllable!
"san" is also used with generic second person pronouns, which are the same words as "older brother" (onii-san, お兄さん, and yes, there's different words based on relative age), "aunt" (oba-san, おばさん), and so forth. Used when the person's name isn't known, usage of specific pronouns is dependent on the perceived age of the individual. Being called "oba-san" for the first time is a source of much consternation for Japanese women, kind of like being called "ma'am" for the first time in English.
There's also some fun to be had, too. "sama" (様) is a respectful, elevated form of "san," used for bosses, your customers, and so forth. In older times it translated to "lord." Much to the amusement of @Kenai, I recently explained that "ki-sama" means "precious lord," but in a way that's dripping with sarcasm. It's an archaism that when used today, specifically refers to someone in second person rudely. Like "bitch," perhaps.
On that note, Japanese is a language that's actually rather devoid of straight profanity like English has so colorfully. No, the Japanese are much more subtle than that--as I've hopefully given you a taste of in this post, they use suggestion, unspoken words and connotation in their language to tell you to fuck off.
Now for something entirely different--there's a subreddit called "dirtywritingprompts," with ideas for us perverted smut writers. The writing prompt for this piece was: "You lose the power to climax at all. Instead pleasure is reduced [and] you become much more horny."
It was maddening. Over three weeks she sent me photos, an open arrangement she had termed "preparation for my visit." No other instruction, and scarcely a dirty word. She said little more than a place and time, and practically purred at me, "Don't miss it, or you'll regret it."
She looked fantastic when I first saw her across the brightly sunlit room. A loose dress, blown out auburn hair, piercing green eyes. Like something drawn, not born, ripped out of a comic book and given flesh. Now I'm starting to wonder if meeting those eyes with mine was a mistake.
You see, she looked great disrobed as well, a fact plainly visible as I scrolled through the photos on my phone. Curvy, great skin, and those lips. The side of her mouth was ever pulled up in a smirk, always smirking. Truth is, I had developed a nigh-Pavlovian response to the sound of notifications from the texting service of her choice. Weeks later, I was still feeling the same effect--a familiar bulge in my trousers, my mouth watering in anticipation of putting my lips on that flawless frame, but yet, no end to my frustration.
I can't explain it, but as turned on as I always was, I could never, ya know, finish and clear my head. As I said, there was little instruction on her part, and little instruction did not include any admonishment--nor encouragement--to fully avail myself of the photos she was sending. It didn't even feel as good as it had before her. By this point, my nights had become too familiar: a notification sound from my phone, the inevitable hard-on, rub myself for 10, 30 minutes, an hour, and nothing. Eventually I would have to forcefully push her out of my mind, and I could swear I was hearing a ghost of her fruity laughter from that initial meeting in the back of my head.
The good news is it was finally time. I was on my way to meet her, at a locale of her choice. I wasn't even entirely sure if this was a neutral site or her place. She had been out of town for a month and I hadn't thought to scout the place out. All I could think about was getting some release, sight unseen, trying to carve her out of all this headspace she was renting. At least, so I hoped.
I rapped on the door of a ranch-style home, a bit off the beaten path, and it was immediately clear she wasn't wasting any time, as I wasn't--I was quite punctual. The door opened right away, and there she was, in a silky, floral print robe that barely covered the essentials. It sure didn't look like she had on any garments underneath.
"Are you coming in?" she asked, voice full of mirth. I must have been gawking. Shaking my head, I nodded silently, and crossed the threshold. She closed the door behind me.
After the door shut out the cool night air, she gestured down a dimly lit hallway with an outstretched hand.
Thank god. No small talk, no offers of refreshment, no "how was the drive?" Just getting down to business. Exactly what I needed.
I followed her to the back, watching her surefooted stride and listening to the swish of the robe as she walked. A scent wafted behind her, something I couldn't quite place. It had floral notes, and something else resembling that smell outside after a rain. She stepped into a bedroom, lit by candlelight on either side of the bed. Pale, gentle moonlight filtered through a large window off to the side of the room, curtains drawn back.
She stepped in front of the king-sized bed and turned around to face me. Hips askew, arms outstretched, and that knowing smirk. She didn't even have to say, "well, shall we get started?"
I crossed the short distance between us and closed in. All that pent up energy, all that frustration, I could put it aside for this moment. I pressed my lips to hers and wrapped my arms around her. It all smacked of pure comfort: soft lips, the silky, cool feel of the robe but with all that heat underneath. She breathed a moan against me as she kissed me back.
I had already decided I wasn't going to take it slow. I moved my lips down to her ear, her neck, and took in her scent while I nibbled. I was dimly aware of her own hands on my waist, pulling me into her, but I was too focused on my pleasure, my need. I pushed her down onto the bed, loosened the waistband of her robe, and flung it open.
She looked amazing there in the candlelight, my hand-drawn, frustrating temptress. Her hair was spread out on the topsheet, along with the open robe. Her nipples began to harden in the cool air, and me, ever hungry, had to have them in my mouth. Again, that same sensation tugged at me as it had all month, that need, that desire, that drive, but something still felt off.
Her hands were in my hair as I trailed away from a wet, taut nipple, and made my way down, down, down. Soft, smooth alabaster skin ran past my vision as I kissed every bit I came across. I was still in a hurry though, and I didn't linger long. Ready for more, I spread her legs, and ran my tongue flatly over her slit.
She gasped, loudly, and squeaked in delight. You know, she still hadn't said a word since we got in here.
No matter. I just wanted her wet enough to plunge into comfortably. I needed it, and mercifully, she didn't take long in getting ready. I trailed my tongue upward in firm strokes and sampled her with a finger. It was time.
As she looked up at me expectantly, I undressed quickly. She ran her hands over my bare chest, allowing just the hint of a bite of painted nails. I was relieved to finally pop out of my pants, unrestrained. I moved swiftly in between her legs, barely needing to adjust for entry.
It was so good, finally being inside her. So hot, so warm, so wet. I don't think I realized until this very moment how long I had needed this. She had arched her back in pleasure as I fucked her with short and deep strokes. Again, that nagging feeling in the back of my head was back; I couldn't really work myself in a great rhythm. She sure seemed to be enjoying it, though, considering all that moaning and writhing. Must be nice.
I was finally here, finally inside her, and still, nothing. Minutes passed by, as did irritation, and then frustration, and eventually, fatigue. I wanted nothing more than to fill her up with what would surely have been an earth-shattering orgasm, but it would seem my body wasn't having any of it. I withdrew from her, and rolled over onto the bed to her side. My moist cock bounced up in the air as we lay there, gasping for air. And yet, I still wanted more. What now?
She caught her breath, tossed off her robe, and crawled on top of me, positioning my cock for entry once more. Oh no, she wasn't done with me yet. She rode me fiercely, her tightness still wrapped pleasurably around me, but still definitely not enough for me to get any release. I caressed her thighs with my hands as she bounced up and down on my throbbing cock, and she dropped a pointed, pink nipple toward my mouth. Eager for any change in sensation to push me over the edge, I complied.
Still nothing. It was surely at a rhythm that worked well for her, though, given the pulsing I felt around me every few minutes. She would writhe on me, stop, and then go again. That damnable smirk was there, too, every time we made eye contact.
I don't really know how long this went on for, but I can tell you it left me in the same place I was at the first time she sent me those damn pictures: hard, indignant, and unsatisfied. My partner, on the other hand, was flush with sweat, and smiled at me as she lay next to me, rubbing a leg over top of mine.
"So, same time next month? I'll send you more pictures. I know how much you loved them..." she trailed off.
I could only nod.
As some of you know, I left Facebook last year. I recently reactivated my account as per a friend's request, but I rarely read my feed and only log in maybe twice a week to check notifications/messages. The main reason I left is that Facebook is essentially a confirmation bias machine. In order to keep you coming back, the algorithms are specifically designed to show you things you will like, based on data collected on you from Facebook itself along with partner sites. One can reduce a user's presence on their feed or unfollow them altogether, blocking out what may or may not be a quality, valid viewpoint in its own right. The breaking point for me was when I realized I was getting my news from Facebook and starting to get unconsciously lazy about seeking out proper journalism. There's some personal responsibility involved here, but Facebook, by design, makes it that much harder to get outside of your comfort zone.
To be properly informed, one must view differing perspectives on the world to see what is actually going on. That means reading things that can make you uncomfortable from time to time, but if you're reading quality sources, it's difficult to dismiss an opposing viewpoint as simple propaganda or without basis in logic and/or science. Here's an example. My political views are socially liberal (in case you couldn't tell!), but most of my family is very conservative. We will differ greatly on topics such as abortion, immigration, and police reform. On abortion discussion, there's been some positives--I can understand their viewpoint that abortion is murder, no matter what, and should be illegal. On the other hand, calls to completely shut down Planned Parenthood, clinics that are frequently prominent in such debate, are not reasonable, as they do provide access to contraceptives and pre- and post-natal care. On police reform, I think it's important to have the discussion that police work is a dangerous job and, in many cases, individuals in law enforcement are held accountable for overstepping their bounds. It is not helpful to call Black Lives Matter a "terrorist organization" and outright dismiss the problems with police in this country.
This is where confirmation bias comes into play--with the way we are consuming media now, it is too damned easy to get stuck in an echo chamber of like-minded individuals and end up in a tribe representing a section of political thought. Authority bias comes in when we see things in print, ranging in quality from the random blog to opinion pieces in the Washington Post. If one aligns their thinking with a political tribe, it becomes more difficult to view such writings as merely opinion and not gospel. This is not a new phenomenon, either, at least in the US--the rise of the 24-hour news cycle on cable television years ago resulted in (and propagated) breakouts to ideological corners, resulting in networks of media with political lean. It has grown worse with social media, however.
So, what I've done is branched out. Twitter has been my primary resource in this time, with reddit filling in the gaps here and there. The partisans are there, in droves, but one can find proper debate that does not necessarily descend into name calling. One can find quality individuals with opposing viewpoints and follow their feeds, yielding cogent comment and links to professional articles. There's also entertainment, of course, and the nature of twitter is that professionals do not seem to be afraid to express individual viewpoints, so overlap happens. (Also, twitter does have a "things you may like" algorithm that I always dismiss.) On reddit, it's a bit more difficult. Content is generally properly categorized, but sometimes you have to dig for the quality pieces and not be tempted to reach for the low-hanging fruit that's been upvoted to the top by groupthink.
As stated above, I think curating a good social media feed requires a dose of personal responsibility and also enough legwork to make it happen. I'm constantly tinkering with my feeds, adding new people on twitter, removing others, adding subreddits, blocking others. Just remember that sometimes the news and political discussion is supposed to make you uncomfortable. If you're going to reach out to the world, there are tools to make your viewpoint accurate and push you towards critical thought.
As I mentioned in my first post on language study, I'm going through a textbook to pick up new grammar (and in fewer and fewer cases, review old grammar) and practice it. It's also giving me vocabulary, but I'm not putting a lot of emphasis on it--a lot of the vocab is esoteric to college life. Not long from now I'm going to poke around NHK Easy News and pull new vocab from there. Much more practical.
However, something I've been thinking about as I proceed through the book (today I am starting chapter 7 out of 11) is that I really should find a way to put together a comprehensive review. After all, it's a course in building up language learning, not a collection of discrete facts. Therefore, my current project is to figure out how I can do this effectively. An exam is the traditional method, but I can't just write it out myself! Or, at least, it wouldn't be efficient. It's a fairly popular book, so maybe there's premade exams posted online somewhere. Must look.
In any case, one thing I learned about my self-driven study habits is that I learn best when I prepare in a way that would allow me to make a presentation in class. To give a 15 minute talk, or similar, with reference material. I think I can do something similar here.
I will try to post positive things here from time to time, despite my cynical nature.
The changes weight loss causes necessitates adjustment to how one dresses. It can be bittersweet. Last week, I had to put away a pair of Levi's I got a great deal on at a thrift store, and of course, the goal is to never wear them again. They were actually too long, but I learned how to hem with them. The process took all day and no less than two trips to the craft store, but it worked out pretty well. I was actually rather proud of the job. Now, I have a perfectly good pair of personally modified jeans that I can't use.
However, I have almost a full wardrobe that's a size down, and while I'm not ready for the tops yet, I found a pair of jeans in my storage that fit great.
...for all of a week. The new jeans are already getting loose. While it's awesome to have such a tangible sign of progress (when I look in the mirror, I still don't see a difference), I'm going to be annoyed when I have to buy a whole new set of clothes. I suppose I have time to prepare, though.
So, by popular request, I'll go into my language study a bit on this blog. This post will be on a couple of tools I've been using. The first is Houhou, a Windows app. It's designed specifically for Japanese, but the SRS (spaced repetition system), which is the focus of the app, is a system that has more common-use programs built around it, such as Anki. I've even heard that people use an SRS for studying other things that require memorization, such as anatomy and chemistry.
Here's the front page:
There's tabs up top for the SRS, a kanji dictionary, and a dictionary for more general vocabulary. You can think of the SRS as a sort of fancy flashcard system. At its basic level, it works just like simple paper flashcards, but it also keeps track of which items you answered correctly or not and then spaces your next review of that next flashcard accordingly. The time period ranges from 4 hours (for new items) all the way up to 120 days! There's apparently actual learning science behind this stuff, and it definitely works for me. I wish I had it back in 1999 when I first started learning the language. You can see I have 20 reviews ready to go. Houhou also sends me Windows notifications every hour when new reviews are ready, and frankly, I need that level of nagging.
As an example, next image has a breakdown of what I currently have in the system:
D1 is the first level, so I must have failed to answer correctly on one of the new ones. I'd say most of that 13% I get wrong are new ones. The difference between how much I draw a complete blank on new items and then how well I do just after a couple of days of this flashcard cycling process is honestly amazing. According to Houhou, supposedly I have 350 words and kanji memorized, but it doesn't feel like that many (there's also some basic ones that I never even put through the system, so the number's actually higher than that). Maybe I should have more faith in my recall.
Next is an SRS review in action:
This is a kanji review, although the vocab review is very similar (more or less identical to what you'll see in the next pic). I've even squeezed a few sentences in here for new grammar concepts I've been picking up recently. A minor quibble I have with this is that there are two types of readings that go with each kanji and they aren't delineated by category here in the reviews. Tough to go into more detail on that without getting into the nitty-gritty of the language, but suffice it to say it would help me with learning the readings for kanji, especially since, as you can see, there can be quite a few for each character.
Yeah, it's a stickler for getting it correct. Here I'll point out the buttons on the bottom. "Ignore answer" is good if I typo'd my answer, which is handy since I'm still learning how to type in Japanese as well. It simply throws the flashcard back into the review session without recording a failure or success. "Add to meanings" is a shortcut for adding an incorrect answer to the accepted list. Sure, it can be a way to cheat, and I suppose there is an argument to be made here that my response, "verify," is technically correct, but the dictionary this is based on, EDICT, has been around since the 90's and reviewed by countless people. I should probably stick with it, and not cheat, since if I just cheated all the time it wouldn't work as well.
Here's a look at the kanji tab if anyone's interested:
Kanji, being a set of thousands of characters, is difficult to look up, especially for beginners. This program doesn't have a lot of tools, being pretty much just limited to reading, meaning, and component (called "radicals"). However, just this has become serviceable for someone at my level in most situations. Other programs, interfaces, and websites have all sorts of tools, such as searching by the number of strokes used in writing, or a handwritten interface where it tries to guess a kanji that the user drew.
Houhou has been my best friend since I picked up Japanese again, but as I mentioned, it's a Windows program. What if I'm not at my computer and I want to look up a word? Then I use a phone app, and personally, I use Akebi for my Android phone.
Search in this is rather robust, and I actually am still learning how to use the app since most of the time I'm at my computer when I'm studying. I haven't even dabbled in the Lists or flashcards here yet. Here's a look at a sample word search:
So, there's a reading here in hiragana (the basic Japanese script) and the kanji for the word (how one would normally see it written out in everyday life). Under the defintions, "common noun" refers to how often it comes up in analysis of Japanese writing. Houhou has these tags as well, and I really appreciate them. I'll explain why in the next paragraph. The other tags are for grammar reference. There's a lot of little details in Japanese that are easy to forget, especially when attempting to translate English to Japanese. Kinda like how "the" and "a" "an" and other such grammar constructs that come naturally to us native speakers work. Examples of usage in sentences are great, too. I take as many of these as I can get. Finally there's a breakdown of the kanji used in this word at the bottom, and from here, one can research the selected kanji further.
That goes into why I love those common usage tags. I'll try not to lose you here in details, but when learning kanji, I find the best way to learn both the meaning and the readings for them is to see them in actual words. The problem is, when I plug a kanji into the dictionary, it's going to spit out 100 words that use that kanji, either on its own, or with other kanji. When a program like Houhou or Akebi shows me which words are commonly used, I'm able to just add two or three useful words to my list, making it much more easily digestible. This really is a lifesaver when I'm picking up ten kanji at a time. While a lot of these tools were available back in the day when I first started learning and just became more convenient (or portable), this common usage concept in particular is new and I love it.
My last tool is a familiar one--a textbook. I've been going through self-study by following the textbook and doing exercises in its companion workbook. Where the tools in this post come in handy are as companions to the text. My process right now has been to pick up new words and kanji from the text, and plug them into Houhou. While plugging in the kanji, I look for common use words with them and also add them to the SRS. I'll add in sentences here and there, too. I tend to use Akebi for times I'm sitting on the couch or I'm out and about and a word pops in my head and I think to myself, "I wonder what the Japanese word for that is?"
While this process has been great for vocab and kanji, I don't think it's enough for learning the grammar. Putting grammar on flashcards helps, but I've found myself memorizing what's on the flashcards instead of thinking about the grammar and parsing it into English. I'm currently looking out for tools to supplement that aspect of my learning.
So, ever since I was 18, I've had back problems. It first started at work the morning after a pickup basketball game--I leaned over to pick up a product for a customer and something went *ping* in my back. I had a flood of pain and couldn't get up for a few minutes. Somehow I managed to walk out, drive myself home, and end up laid up on the couch for a week. In the years after, I'd have lingering back pain that came and went. Sometimes it'd be gone for months at a time. I also started putting on weight at 14, and that's been up and down ever since (currently still quite up). I drastically reduced my physical activity after that injury, which I'm sure did not help with that. I also had a slip and fall at a different job in late 2009. Again, lots of pain for a while, but it cleared up. Never thought much of either at the time.
In 2011, I drove back out to Oregon to give grad school another shot. Just me driving, it was a three-day trek out there. I started developing back pain about a day into the drive, but nothing for it--had to keep pressing on. By the time I got there, I had to very slowly move my stuff into the place I was renting. This back pain became nearly chronic, and has been, for the most part, over the past six years. I kind of dealt with it then because I didn't have health coverage, but when the country's health coverage changed in 2014, I was finally able to see doctors and fully diagnose the problem. As it turns out, I had spinal disease in both the upper and lower spine, with two deformed vertebral discs. To this day, we can't determine when it started, whether it's genetic and just developed over time (my father had a cervical disc removed), or whether a specific incident like the ones I mentioned were the cause.
I had surgery to remove the upper disc late last year, but it turned to be mostly asymptomatic--there was no change in my condition. The surgeon was insistent that it be removed because the manner in which it was pressing the spinal cord was precarious--a single mild car accident, for example, could have caused me to become quadriplegic. I suppose it's good that I don't have to worry about that, but it's little comfort when I still have lingering symptoms from it. I saw a neurologist recently who told me that the problems I have with my hands will likely be permanent. It could be worse, as I can still use a computer, drive a car, and so forth (at least most of the time), but when it gets bad, I drop things and have poor use of my hands, especially the right one.
Right now surgery isn't suggested for my lower back, even though it's causing all of the nerve pain I'm having today. It's not threatening loss of function of my legs (at least not yet), and the weird position of the disc in my lower spine is not exactly consistent with what the surgeons expect to be causing problems, so they don't want to touch it. I'm trying physical therapy again, and I write this having come back from a session, hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this time around, the sessions will push back the pain a bit. It's the pain that's keeping me from normal life--I can't work because the episodes make me unreliable, much less physically able to commute. Thankfully, my family has been able to support me, or I don't know where I'd be right now.
I've also been seeing a behavioral therapist for a year. I've long talked about depression as that's been a longer battle that I was able to address sooner; I may have even talked about it here at NL. One of the areas in which we've made real progress is my coping skills, especially with regards to my relationship with food. I have a binge eating disorder that has greatly been mitigated by the sessions, and, as you can imagine, is largely responsible for my weight gain. Between working with my therapist and being told I wouldn't be having surgery on the lower disc, I've somehow managed to finally get on a successful diet. I've lost 30 pounds over the past few months. Given what little I can do for my pain, inching myself closer to a healthy weight is one thing that I can control, and while I have no promises that losing weight will improve the disease symptoms, it could help.
Perhaps I'll update here as my journey moves along, but it's been a slow one. We will see where it leads, but I suppose I'm optimistic.