Five Things

Another week is about to begin and, as one would expect, this means the weather is about to become lovely. For some peculiar reason, the best weather always seems to happen between Monday and Friday. One might argue that this is the result of a very selective memory, but I’m inclined to think that the universe likes to tempt people into skipping work.

This is why we have “sick days”, right?

Sunglasses at Light

After going without for more than a decade, I finally have a pair of prescription sunglasses to use when out and about in the sun. One of the last big purchases I made before leaving Canada back in 2007 was a $890 pair of frameless glasses that could transition from completely transparent to decently grey with UV light. These broke a few years later and, being rather financially constrained at the time, I picked up a simple pair of regular glasses that would get the job done. This is the same pair I use today.

There are a couple of things I like about having a dedicated pair of prescription sunglasses. Not only is it easier to look at things outside during the daylight hours, but these can act as an auxiliary pair should anything happen to my indoor glasses. Until now, I’ve been extremely careful to ensure the boy doesn’t damage my eyewear. Now, while I plan on remaining vigilant, there is less at stake from little fingers creating big problems.

Unhelpful Rhetoric

This week I was chatting with a couple of neighbours when we heard a fire truck followed by an ambulance race down a nearby street, sirens and PA speakers blaring. One of the men stated that the fire and police have been a lot busier in the area lately, to which another said — and I am quoting in English despite the Japanese that was used — “The change happened about the same time the last group of foreigners moved into town.”

I couldn’t resist. I had to ask how often the cops or fire department had been to my house in the last 14 months.

“Oh, you’re fine,” the neighbour quickly said as though trying to backpedal. “The problem is all the Brazilians.”

To which I quickly rattled off a bunch of high profile crimes that have been in the news over the last two weeks, all of which have been conducted by Japanese people. Legal immigrants to Japan generally try to follow they rules because the consequences of causing trouble is too great a cost. I’ll admit that my attitude towards immigrants in Canada when I was young and stupid was unfair1, but I will do what I can to help people understand that people who willingly choose to live and work in Japan are generally hard-working, law-abiding residents.

10,000 a Day

In the month of May my average daily step count was 10,005. The last time I saw this sort of number was when I was still very much into the idea of Quantified Self, which I had to abandon after the boy was born due to the over-complexities of recording activities that are interrupted thrice at a minimum2. That said, both the boy and Nozomi have been insistent this month that they have more time outside, and I am quick to support any reason to get some fresh air and sunshine. It’s nice to see a 5-digit number again.

The Mazda is Back

Last week the Mazda was returned with a new transmission and two new associated computers. Before the car had problems, I thought the vehicle was smooth. After feeling how the car accelerated and maintains speed now, colour me surprised. I’ve not enjoyed a ride this smooth in years. The car feels brand new.

Quantifiable

As I eluded to earlier, I’ve recently started to track some of my numbers again. For the moment, tracking will be kept relatively simple with steps, heart rate at the time I wake up, sleep patterns, and body weight. A lot of this is quite automated, which makes it easier to get back into the swing. One thing I am looking forward to, though, is picking up an ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ at some point to better track my pulse and other metrics. If I plan the budget just right, Santa might place one of these devices under the tree this year. Two would be better, but likely isn’t in the cards for this year.


  1. I didn’t mind that people came from other countries. What frustrates me was the communication barrier, as not everyone was fluent in English or Québécois. I used to ask “If you can’t speak either of the languages, why are you here?” It was an idiotic and unfair question. As a settled immigrant in a historically homogenous nation, I understand the challenges that come with moving across the planet.

  2. This is why I had to give up tracking my sleep. I would be woken up at least twice every night, and three times on average. Try recording that into a phone application that expects a person to go to bed just once per night.

Sore

The last few days have been pretty rough for the body. Not only is there a lack of recovery time when playing with the boy1, but the effort put into pushing the Mazda a few days ago has resulted in a rather sore lower back. This isn't quite at hernia levels of pain, but the discomfort is letting me know that I'll need to be a little careful over the coming days. As one would expect, the boy has no concept of long-lasting pain and believes I'm ready for another round of abuse after just a couple of minutes on the sofa.

A common theme in many of my posts involves my current state of health, be it a lack of sleep, a spate of anxiety, allergies, or simply the process of ageing. While I understand that this body is no longer the same as it was 20 years ago, it's hard to let go of the idea that if I need to do a thing, then I will do that thing. Pushing the car to the nearby gas station was a necessity, so I did it. Lifting and carrying the boy when we're in crowded places or areas where food is in the open is a necessity, so I do it. Cleaning the house is a necessity — and therapeutic —, so I will regularly do so. The question I often ponder is when this sort of reckless decision-making will not be possible. At what point will I need to weigh the benefits of doing something myself because "it must be done" with asking someone for help?

There is grey in my hair. There are lines on my face. There are aches in my joints2. The time for reality to set in is not that far away … so I'm told.

Both of my grandfathers were fiercely independent to their last breath. They would work in their sheds, taking pieces of lumber or a fallen branch, and creating something that did not exist earlier that day. It might be an intricately carved relief. Perhaps it would be a music box for a granddaughter. Sometimes it would be just something they needed in the kitchen to solve a problem3 When they asked someone to "come help them in the shed", it wasn't because they needed help4. Interestingly, none of my uncles were like this. Most seemed to complain about some sort of pain, then delegate physical tasks to their kids as soon as it was feasible. From the standard "Go fetch me a beer" to "Go shovel the snow from the driveway" to "Grab that sledge hammer and break up the old concrete foundation"5. The contrast between the generations was night and day, and it was primarily this reason that I made the decision before leaving high school that I would rather emulate my grandfathers than parents, uncles, or aunts6.

The boy is still two years old, so cannot do much in terms of physical labour. As he gets older, I'll certainly include him in the myriad of tasks that are generally handed down from father to son. He'll learn how to wash the car and trim the lawn. He'll get to experience the joys of cleaning drainage, unclogging toilets, and replacing plumbing. He might even get to help with some emergency repairs in the middle of bad weather7. One of the things that I hope to impress upon him, though, is the importance of getting things done. We can all recognize that something is important and should be done sooner rather than later, but it can be genuinely hard to avoid procrastinating or giving up altogether. So while my body might be showing signs of its age and reminding me with greater alacrity8 that it might be time to slow down just a little bit, I plan on being an active and independent problem solver for as long as possible. There's no shame in asking for help, just as there's also no shame in doing something unaided.


  1. I generally view sitting at the work desk and doing day-job tasks as "rest" now ….

  2. Not many, mind you. My ankles and knees do protest more than any other part of the body, though.

  3. My mother's father once created a wooden spoon with a notch that could be used to guide cooking oil into a collection tin. To this day I've never seen any kitchen tool like it.

  4. My grandfather could soliloquy like a tenured professor. His idea of help was saying something like "Hand me that mitre saw back there" while deftly measuring where a piece of wood needed to be cut and talking about why the Canadian government at the time was "ruining the country". It's probably a good thing he can't see what the current clowns in Ottawa have gotten up to.

  5. I did all of these things. There's nothing like four solid days of working a sledge hammer to seriously rough-up a person's hands.

  6. The criteria that went into the decision were much more complex than this, of course, and (most of) the adults around me were not lazy slave drivers. They had a work ethic as well. I just very much preferred how my grandfathers approached a problem.

  7. I remember climbing onto the roof of a house in the middle of a rainstorm to help cover a hole just enough so that the rain wouldn't get in the house. Afterwards I was called on to climb onto the roof again and learn how to strip shingles, replace water-damaged panelling, then re-shingle … all in a 12-hour period between storms.

  8. I understand that alacrity is generally used to describe positive and cheerful verbs. I just wanted to use the word.

In My Head

Since I started working from home full time a year ago, I’ve become much more “in my head” than before. When I go outside it’s generally with the same two people or Nozomi. When I’m on my own I tend to walk to the same park to sit in isolation in a semi-secluded spot on a hill. When I’m at the computer, the words people use to communicate are given voices as the text is being read. A surprising lack of communication with people in the real world means that I spend a great deal of time in my head, and I wonder if this is contributing to my hearing problems.

The other day I wrote about “noise” and how it generally affects me. As is likely true with most people1, I generally cannot be in a noisy place for more than a couple of hours. A ceaseless acoustic assault will make me feel trapped and claustrophobic, which results in rising stress levels. Depending on the volume, this might result in some temporary deafness as the mind begins to shut out the world in order to better manage the overload of information. When I’ve tried to explain this to people, the assumption is always that deafness is quiet. For me, it’s anything but.

When one or both of my ears begins to deafen, I generally hear what is best described as 100 or more people talking simultaneously at the same, loud level. When this happens in one ear, I can generally deal with it by keeping my head turned towards the people I want or need to listen to. When both ears have given up, the world is essentially shut out and I’m walled in a garden of incoherence for most of the rest of the day. But why?

This hearing problem has been with me for years, but it does seem to be getting worse as I continue the march towards 50. For years I’ve wondered what it’s like to be deaf. From most accounts, it’s quiet. If my ears ever do completely give out it will be interesting to see if this is true. The one thing I do worry about, though, is spending too much time in my head while the rest of the world goes by.

Should I find myself in this predicament, it would likely make sense to buy a bunch of decent pens so that I can continue to communicate with the world in a more controlled environment.


  1. I’m assuming most people have certain tolerances for noise.

Noise

Many years ago, when I was in high school and knew everything, there would be days when my parents would be quite sensitive to certain kinds of noise. Sometimes they would complain about the Backstreet Boys cassette my sisters played on repeat a dozen times a day. Sometimes they would complain about the noise from my younger brother as he would complain ceaselessly about how something or other "wasn't fair". This would often strike me as odd given that when seven people live in the same house, a certain tolerance to noise was required.

At some point in my 30s, my ears started giving me problems. Well … I thought it was my ears. There were the signs of tinnitus by mid-afternoon six days a week. There was the desire to wear noise-isolating headphones everywhere, even if they weren't plugged into anything (aside from my ears, of course). Occasionally an ear would even stop working, rendering me deaf on one side for a number of hours. A lot of this was taken in stride, though. The tinnitus was likely the result of working at a printing company for many years without wearing ear protection1. The headphones were the desire to block out human interaction as well as the audio assault one contends with when working in the city. The temporary deafness in one ear was caused from stress.

Or so I thought.

Over the last couple of years one of the things I've noticed about sound is that most of it is fine so long as there is a purpose. Sounds that have no immediate value or — worse — obstruct other sounds appear to cause a physical reaction in me. This is especially prevalent when the TV is on. Japanese TV is not quite as weird as YouTube videos would have a person think, but it can be incredibly annoying in the name of "fun". There might be multiple layers of background music playing while one or more people are talking about a subject. There might be sound effects placed in random spots just to give the sound effects person a reason to get out of bed that day. There might be as many as six people talking all at once resulting in two or three overlapping conversations while background music is playing and a laugh track chimes in every couple of seconds.

I just can't stand it for more than a couple of minutes, yet I'm in the minority here as both Reiko and the boy enjoy having the TV on for several hours a day. When they're talking while the TV is on, my ears start to tighten up, I feel my chest tighten as well, and I just want to leave the room or shut the TV off. Muting does help, but not always.

Which strikes me as odd. If the problem was with my ears and how they process sound, then muting the TV should resolve the issue. Instead it just puts my rising tensions on pause. The problem likely isn't my ears, but in my head … like so many of my other problems.

After a number of conversations, there's a better understanding in the house that sometimes I need to insist the TV gets shut off for a few hours. This doesn't always happen, but the number of times that I've been able to ask that the TV be shut off and see it stay off is nice. One day I might see a doctor about this. Given my past experiences with Japanese doctors looking at my ears, though, it might be a while before that day comes.


  1. The company did provide free ear plugs, but that made it really hard for me to hear people above the thrum of the presses. After a couple of hours, I opted to just deal with the noise.

Asleep at the Keyboard

Today an interesting thing happened in that I fell asleep at the keyboard while in the middle of writing a SQL query. This is the first time in recent memory that I've lost consciousness mid-thought, and it's clearly a sign that I'm not getting enough sleep. While I no longer have the accuracy of a sleep tracker like SleepCycle to tell me just how poorly I'm resting, I can count on one hand the number of hours of sleep I've achieved since Sunday. Last time I checked, today is Wednesday. Meetings are taking place at all hours of the day. The boy needs attention for the 12 hours he's not sleeping. Nozomi and Reiko also need a bit of time. Then there's the time I dedicate to 10C and freelance jobs. Clearly the body is a lot more tired than I'm admitting, which means falling asleep at the keyboard1.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Keyboard

To make up for the lack of rest over the last couple of nights, I've blocked the schedule from 10:00pm until the start of the following day. Hopefully this will mean getting to bed by 11:00pm at the latest and falling asleep somewhere between 30~60 seconds later2.

There are just two more working days to go this week before the start of Golden Week, which will work out to 10 consecutive days off work with six of those days being fully paid holidays. The lack of OT will hurt the pay cheque a little bit, but the ability to get some sound sleep will more than make up for a few hundred dollars less in income.


  1. Would this be short-keyed as AAK?

  2. I generally fall asleep within 15~30 seconds after lying down in bed but, when overtired, a little more time is needed.

Sources

Anxiety is a problem for millions of people around the world and can range from being a slight unease in the chest to a full-blown panic attack. Not everyone will experience it the same way and rarely have I seen people who do not battle anxiety on a regular basis understand how it can affect someone. In my case, the strain that I feel most often is social anxiety, which generally appears almost every time I’m in a crowd without a pair of headphones on. What I don’t understand is why this feeling exists at all.

Social anxiety is a mental disorder where a person is incredibly nervous when in a social situation. Symptoms can include abdominal discomfort, a tight chest, lightheadedness, and a 'negative loop' of feeling anxious about any anxious feelings. Panic attacks may also occur if the right conditions cascade into each other. I’ve yet to experience a sense of panic when out shopping at a crowded mall or even when on a train in Tokyo. Everything else, though, is a regular occurrence to such an extent that I’ve started to actively avoid going to busy places unless I am alone and wearing headphones. When in a crowded place by myself, it’s possible to push away the oppressive claustrophobia that comes with being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people who generally stand a little too close to others. This is generally impossible when out with Reiko or the boy because both enjoy talking in a near-nonstop fashion, and not answering questions or being part of a conversation/soliloquy is not an option. So, when out and about with the family, I generally keep the ears open to keep the peace at the cost of enjoying the different environment.

This has been “just the way it is” for years, and I’ve usually associated this with my strong dislike of unstructured noise. When people congregate somewhere, conversations and other sounds blend to become virtually incoherent, which makes it a challenge to hear what anyone is saying. However, after a bit of an anxiety issue today that resulted in a feeling of oppressive claustrophobia where I wanted everyone in a crowded park to “go away”1. The feeling is completely irrational and I understand it as such, but anxiety is really hard to control.

As the feeling generally crops up when I’m surrounded by noise, I’ve been paying attention to how loud a place is in order to maintain some semblance of sanity when outside. However, Reiko seems to think that my problem is not sound, but sleep.

This past week I’ve been working pretty long hours to accomplish a number of tasks and objectives. From Sunday to Friday, a six-night period, I managed to get about 27 hours of sleep. Nozomi gets more than this in two days, and the boy gets it in three. Generally when I am not getting enough sleep I have difficulty focusing on voices and this results in conversations coming across as incoherent noise rather than communicative language. As the ears get tired2, noise increases, which leads to anxiety, which leads to lots of frowning or a strong desire to escape the current environment, even if it’s just my living room. Reiko thinks it’s better if I get to bed before midnight every day, understanding that sometimes I’ll be waking up at 4:45am for early-morning meetings.

The idea does have merit. Generally I’m battling the strong desire to fall sleep between the hours of 2:00pm and bedtime. The body or, more likely, the mind is clearly trying to tell me something. My concern is that by spending more time in bed there will be less work accomplished. Reiko’s concern is that if I’m always focused on getting work accomplished, then a serious burnout isn’t too far off.

Two decades ago I could push myself pretty hard and the consequences were minimal. I’m clearly not as resilient today, and adjustments must be attempted. So, with this in mind, I’ll set a goal for myself to be in bed by 11:30pm every night, as this will mean being asleep before midnight. The trick will be to tell the mind it’s time to shut down for the night.


  1. By “go away” I mean leave and/or give me and my family a good 50 meters of space.

  2. I know it’s not the ears, but the brain. That said, this is generally how I describe the issue.

Productivity After Midnight

Twenty years ago my most productive hours were between 10pm and 3am. This is when I could get most of my homework done, and this is when "inspiration" would strike and I'd invest hours on whatever idea had triggered the surge of ideas and adrenaline. These night-owl hours became a lot more difficult to maintain after accepting a full-time job that expected an alert person at the store no later than 8:00am six days a week, but when the weekend would arrive I'd be right back to staying up half the night while creating something that did not exist the day before. Unfortunately the habit came to an abrupt end in 2007 when I moved to Japan.

Black Watch Face

An abrupt end until recently, that is.

My sleep patterns have been in disarray since the boy was born, but they went completely off the rails five weeks ago when I flew to New Jersey. Perhaps I'm just feeling restless. Perhaps I'm just nervous about owning a house and being in debt for a decade's worth of paycheques1. Perhaps I'm just so distracted during the day that the only time I can get any time to make things is after everyone's in bed and I don't want to lose more time due to personal exhaustion. Who knows. What I can say is that this newfound block of time has not gone to waste and is actually turning out to be quite beneficial.

Hopefully this continues. While spending six to seven hours in bed is quite enjoyable, creating things is what I want to do with my life.


  1. the mortgage is quite a bit longer than 10 years, of course

Nozomi's Back!

The title is a bit misleading because Nozomi only spent one night at the vet this past week. What I mean to say is that Nozomi is back to normal. After 53 hours, she finally went poo, and it was a normal one. Her appetite has been quite ferocious as of late, and she's drinking a normal amount of water. While it's probably premature to celebrate, it certainly feels like the puppy is back to her normal self.

Nozomi will remain "under observation" for the next day and, so long as everything's good to go, she'll get her first walk in a week around lunchtime tomorrow. I'm sure there are all sorts of scents and smells that she's just itching to go an explore.

Nozomi During Happier Times

Full-sized Image (1.1 MB)

The camera will certainly get a workout during tomorrow's little trek …

An Update on Nozomi

The last few days have been pretty hard on Nozomi. After spending the night at the vet's, she came home and almost instantly crawled into bed, coming out only when her stomach is cramping up, when she needs the bathroom, or when I coax her out to try and take some medicine or eat some food. Last night she had quite a lot of blood in her stool, so another trip to the vet was in order today. In addition to 75cc of medicine delivered through an IV, she was given three needles: two for her bleeding and one for her pain.

Hopefully this will be the last time she sees the vet for at least four months.

I would like to think that she's making a slow recovery, though she still has zero appetite and won't take her medicine. To make matters worse, she barely drinks any water. There's a selection of foods around her in the event she wants to try something, such as jelly, bread, and some expensive kibbles from the vet. Her water dish has also been moved right close to her bed so that she doesn't need to traverse a chilly floor to get a drink. Unfortunately this is all I can really do for her.

Last year at this time she was likely fast asleep on my lap. The same could be said about the year before, the year before that, and every year since 2010. There's still time for some lap-naps, and I'll gladly make space for her when she's feeling better.

Missing My Puppy

Last night was pretty rough for Nozomi, my one-of-a-kind mini dachshund. Around 8:30pm she started vomiting, bringing up her dinner from a few hours beforehand, then later her breakfast from the morning. She had some trouble with the bathroom and pooped in the house where we don't like to see such things, and then she made things worse by walking around with goop in her paws. Typically when this sort of thing happens, I don't get upset with her as it's clearly a health-related issue. First I put her in her bathroom area in case she needed to evacuate more stuff from either end. Then I cleaned the floor, using boiling water to get the bulk of the mess and following up with disinfectant to ensure it was all clean afterwards1. Then I brought Nozomi to the bathroom for a quick shower. All in all it was half an hour's worth of work, and this is typically the end of the trouble.

However, Nozomi was really ill yesterday. More than I realized.

Around 10:30pm she vomited again on the freshly-scrubbed floor, though not as much as before. Once more, I cleaned the floor and made sure she was okay.

Then at 1:15am she woke me up with that sound she makes as she's trying to throw up. I managed to move some of the newspaper I put on the ground to catch whatever Nozomi was going to eject. This time, though, it was darker than usual. Either she had eaten disintegrated rubber, which would have been unlikely, or she had blood in her stomach.

At 2:00am she threw up again. This time there was no mistake about the blood.

Reiko called some of the vets in a 30 minute radius, but they were all closed for the winter holidays. 24-hour service is available for humans every day of the year. Non-human members of the household sometimes have to get by without this luxury. Doing what people do in such a situation, I quickly looked online for possible causes and remedies. Most people suggesting keeping her away from food and water for a minimum of six hours and seeing a vet immediately.

Not much help.

Fortunately, Nozomi managed to get some sleep around 3:00 and was snoring up a storm until six when I got up to give the boy a bottle of milk. By 9:00 she seemed to be back to normal, but without an appetite. Not willing to take chances, though, Reiko drove the puppy to a nearby vet who then ran a battery of tests on her, but not before Nozomi made yet another mess on the examination table.

Poor Nozomi. She's such a patient, gentle soul. Why does she have to feel this agony? Why does she have to bear it in silence?

The vet determined that, in addition to being a little overweight, Nozomi's gallbladder and intestines have a strange shape to them and may be infected. The cause was likely the combination of stress from being more isolated since a new member joined the family, as a lot of the time I used to spend with her is now going to the boy, and the rapidly changing temperature. While we do have heat and insulation in our apartment, temperature fluctuations outside can have a dramatic effect on the indoor temperature as well.

Nozomi's been put on some pretty potent medication to try and help her fight whatever's inside, and she'll also be spending at least the next night at the vet's for observation. A doctor will be there all night to keep an eye on her and a few other patients. Hopefully she can come home tomorrow; I miss her, and I worry for her.

I miss hearing her claws on the floor as she walks from place to place. I miss the way she stares at me and communicates her needs. I miss the way she is always so cheerful and optimistic. I worry that this problem might lead to something bigger …

As selfish as it may sound, I am not willing to lose Nozomi to eternity just yet. She's just seven and a half, so there are still a lot of good years remaining. When she's able, I want her to come home and recover in the comfort of her own bed which is very close to mine. I want her to feel relaxed and wanted. I want her to know that while my time is certainly a lot more constrained, I will always make time to take care of her and that she is special.

Maybe the way I feel is silly. Some would laugh and say that "Nozomi is a dog", as though being a species other than human makes her inferior and disposable. Some would say it's not good to be too attached to pets because of their much shorter lifespans. But regardless of what others might think, Nozomi is more than just a dog. She's more than just a pet. She is, in all seriousness, my best friend … and I miss her.


  1. I generally walk barefoot in my home and, even with socks, I don't want to track any germs around the house where the boy can get them