Monday, January 29, 2007

I Quit Recovering Workaholics

Note that my subject line doesn't say I quit being a recovering workaholic. Nor does it say I quite being a workaholic!

Having been immersed in what I call the Girl Scout Badge Syndrome, simply defined as accumulating as many badges on one's sash as is more than humanly possibly, I've been wanting to call it quits for a number of years. And, yet, new ventures keep beckoning - including, this week, getting a new website so that I can develop online courses for at least some of what I teach. That's hours and hours of work right there since, naturally, it all has to be perfect!

With no therapy available in Sapporo, I decided to seek online support and joined an egroup list called Recovering Workaholics. What I discovered is, first, that even many of those people, or at least the ones who posted, didn't truly understand workaholism. They were talking, for example, about bosses who expected too much of them. My expectations of myself come entirely from within. I can't rest until the job is done, and I'm not satisfied until the job is done extremely well, all of which leaves me with no rest.

Then I made the realization that belong to yet another egroup list was a source of stress since I started saving messages in a folder - ones that I wanted to respond to but didn't have the time to (and know I'll never have the time to) and ones that I want to reread some day (not knowing when that some day would ever come). I began accumulating more and more, and the list ended up feeding my workaholism rather than even beginning to heal it.

So I ended up unsubscribing from the list. I left without even saying goodbye, which went against everything I believe about being polite, even though I hadn’t “bonded” with any of the people on the list, as of yet. Then I got even more drastic. I deleted the whole folder. I didn’t keep a single message or a single address. And since I’ve unsubscribed, I can’t access the messages or any of the addresses on the list. It was the best move I could have made towards recovery from workaholism – quitting the Recovering Workaholics list.

There's a whole lot of quitting yet to go. In the case of workaholics like myself, quitters can be winners!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How tired is she?

• She's so tired that she couldn't figure out why her backpack was so heavy today, and then realized she hadn't taken out her books and papers from yesterday's classes so was carrying around two days' (and two schools') worth of materials.

• She's so tired that she forgot to give the school questionnaire to not one but five of her classes. (She did manage to give it to 3 classes and actually thinks the questionnaire is not of much use anyway because of poorly worded questions.)

• She's so tired that she came home after the final classes today at one of the universities (2 down and 1 to go) and slept for four hours!

• She's so tired she hasn't even managed to read her email, much less respond to it. There's something on the "body" email list about using treadmills while watching TV. Who has time to watch TV?

• She's so tired that all she could eat this evening was 3 tangerines and feels quite satisfied with that.

• She's so tired that she forgot to take out the garbage all week (and the truck for recycled garbage only comes once a week).

• She's so tired that she's staying home from chorus rehearsal (gasp!) and typing this instead, but since the concert's not until August, and she already knows some of the pieces by memory, she's not feeling too guilty.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Steal This TV!

Japan has the reputation, and I can vouch for the fact that it's an accurate one, of being a very safe country. Certainly there is crime in Japan. For example, the local news will often carry the story of a vending machine that was vandalized. And, yes, I'm being rather facetious because there are more serious crimes.

In fact, bicycles parked in front of my apartment have been stolen, not once but three times. What's baffling is not that they were locked at the time but that they were all second-hand, bordering on decrepit. The thieves actually did me a favor because the condition of the bicycles, well, at least two of them, was so bad that it was hard work riding them, so they seldom got used.

Which leads me to my current problem. I want to get rid of my old TV. In Japan, large appliances are hard to get rid of. Very few people buy used goods (although the numbers increased when the country began experiencing a recession), and there are no junkyards where one can go to throw something away.

What's more, one actually has to pay for the removal of furniture and large appliances. It's a complicated process of calling to arrange a pick-up date, getting a number, going to a convenience store to buy a sticker for 200 yen or so, placing the number on it, putting the sticker on the item to be discarded, and placing it in front of one's abode on one of the infrequent pick-up dates. A real hassle.

For TVs or computer monitors, most flatbed trucks that come around to collect old newspapers will pick them up - for free! Sometimes I'll hear one coming, announcing itself in a high-pitched voice through a loudspeaker, and I'll dash outside to wave it down, but it's always in the next block by the time I get to it.

So I hit upon a plan. I'd just put my TV outside in front of the apartment some evening, and surely it would be gone by morning. My plan didn't work as well as I had wanted. In fact, it didn't work at all. I picked an evening when it was dark and the pavement was dry. At first I put the TV (complete with manual and remote control in a plastic bag taped to the top) near the front stoop. Then I changed my mind and put it by the corner of the building, so it obviously looked discarded. If any neighbors were peeking from behind their curtains watching me do it, at least they didn't report me.

After depositing the TV outside, I kept checking to see if it was gone, but it stayed right where I left it. Then it started snowing, and the TV remained in place, gradually getting covered with snow. When I got up in the morning, sure enough, there was a mound of snow with the TV still under it. Somewhat chagrined, I put on a jacket, cap, and muffler to cover as much of my face as possible, and went outside to retrieve it.

Now the TV sits at the top of the stairs in my building just waiting to be stolen, but more likely until I catch one of the old newspaper trucks. Who knows how long it will remain sitting there? Probably longer than any of the bicycles I've had. Maybe in the spring I can use it as a flower stand.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

When I'm 64 . . .

I found out today that I am 64! 64.6 to be exact. At least according to I tried their questionnaire, which can take a good 20 minutes, in that one has to input information the number of mg. of various vitamins and minerals one is taking, the latest cholesterol count, and a great many other details about one's lifestyle and genetic background.

There are, naturally, some flaws in the questionnaire, and I think it's quite possible that I might be younger. For example, I put Zero for the amount of Strength Training I do per week, but there were no questions about how much snow one shovels on a weekly basis! Also, the results showed that my intake of calcium was low, which is off-base since I take a calcium supplement with every meal, but it's prescribed and I have no idea how many milligrams it contains.

All in all, though, it was a realistic look at the areas where I'm doing well when it comes to being good to my body, and the areas where I need to improve. Some of them would require minimal effort, such as flossing more often. (I'm not sure how much flossing will add to my lifespan, but this past year has given me some harsh reminders of the importance of taking good care of one's teeth.) The details in the report are as follows:

Factors that make my RealAge younger!
Limited or no secondhand smoke exposure
Parents relationship
Flexibility routine
Correct fruit servings
Healthy resting heart rate
No drinking and driving
Folic acid intake
Daily vitamin
Education level
Distances traveled
Good genes
Low red meat intake
Daily breakfast
Diverse diet
No ovarian cancer in family
Vitamin E intake
Vitamin C intake
Maintain total cholesterol level

Factors that make my RealAge older:
Social network and stress
Low unsaturated fat
Calcium intake
Workout schedule
Flossing habits
Potassium levels
Low grain intake
Low vegetable intake
Low omega-3 intake
Strength training level
Family history of breast cancer
Too much sleep
High BMI
Oral hygiene concerns
Medication use

What I may do is change a few areas that are lacking, such as including more whole vegetables in my diet - and flossing, of course. (I'm not, however, going to change the amount of sleep because I need my 9 hours!) Then I'll try the "test" again in a few months to see if I've gotten any younger.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Getting Skyped!

This evening I got my first "real" Skype call. I say "real" because at our Macintosh user's group meeting, I tried it out with one of the other members. Then, on New Year's morning, I got a call from a friend in France, but, again, it was basically to check the system to see if it would work.

This evening he called again. The conversation was short, but it was exciting to be talking with someone in France - for free! I was surprised at how clear his voice was. Also, since I have iSight set up, I think he could see me, though I couldn't see him. (Some day I expect my great nephews and nieces will be exclaiming, "You mean you couldn't see other people during calls when you were a kid?")

One thing I learned from the experience is NOT to use the "Skype Me" icon. I get calls from all over the place, all from men. Even if the icon is displaying that I'm online but "unavailable," I'll get calls. I've had a couple from China and one from Kenya. I was a bit tempted to respond to the later, asking him to please let immigrants from Somalia enter the country.

Anyway, I'm keeping my contact list to a minimum - friends only - and hope that I get Skyped often, especially from those in France or North America.

CA & Hassan in front of Bistro, September, 2003

CA & Hassan at Bistro, 2003

Snow is not News; No Snow Is News

Only in Hokkaido would the evening news have a story that there's no snow! One segment showed postponements of crosscountry skiing events. Note that they "postponed," not "cancelled," because there's a always a strong likelihood of snow in Hokkaido. In fact, a huge storm is supposed to blow in tomorrow.

Right now, though, there are actually wide areas on the sidewalks where the pavement is showing. Just to show how unusual this is, see the photo below of what the sidewalk from my apartment to the subway station looked like last year on this date. Is this a result of global warming or just quirky weather?

Sapporo Sidewalk in January

Friday, January 05, 2007

Wikigogy Is Here!

"What's Wikigogy?" you may ask. It's a Wiki for lesson plans for teachers of English as a second or foreign language. As a Wiki, it can be edited by anyone, as you may know, and the lesson plans are, of course, free.

So far, the areas covered are Speak, Listen, Read, Write, 4 skill, Grammar, and ESP [English for Special Purposes]. I found 15 lessons at Speak [sic] and 1 at Write. Although there are lessons plans at other sites, particularly Things for ESL/EFL Teachers from the The Internet TESL Journal for Teachers of English as a Second Language. It'll be interesting to see how big Wikigogy grows.

If you're interested, see Wikigogy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2007 - iYear

My iYear actually began in September, 2005, when I bought the iBook on which I'm typing this. Also, I started using, and to some extent mastering, iPhoto and iDVD during 2006.

However, 2007 is going to be the year when I truly begin using all the tools that come with Apple's iWork and iLife. (to be continued)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Shall we Dance? [sic]

Finally, thanks to a gift certificate from a friend, I had a chance to watch the American version of "Shall We Dance," albeit as a DVD on my tiny 17-inch flat screen. Having seen the Japanese version a number of times, I couldn't help comparing them.

The change I liked best was the development of the relationship between the husband and the wife (played by Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon, respectively, two of my favorite actors). In the Japanese version, there are far fewer scenes with the wife, and we know nothing of her life other than sitting at her home in the suburbs, patiently waiting for her husband to come home from work, or driving her daughter to school. For her to have a job, as the American wife does, would be out of the question. The result, though, is a somewhat colorless character who seems to have a far more boring life than her accountant husband. In fact, it’s a wonder that she isn’t the one who ends up taking dance lessons.

On the contrary, we see a great deal more of the work place and its dynamics in the Japanese version, very natural in its depiction of the dominance of the office, as opposed to the home, in a Japanese "salaryman's" life. In fact, when the middle-aged professional, Sugimoto, played with marvelous understatement by Koji Yakusho, doesn't socialize with his co-workers after hours, he's viewed by them as odd for wanting to go home. In the American version, how mundane the lawyer, John Clark, finds his work to be is touched on, mainly through a voice-over (which I generally find to be a weak substitute for action), and not nearly as convincing.

The biggest loss in the absence of work place scenes in the American version is that there's no build-up for the Stanley Tucci character, Link Peterson, a colleague of John’s, and when he is "discovered" at the dance studio, at first we have no idea who this guy is and why he is so embarrassed to be found out. I also didn’t get the bit about his faked interest in sports, so I’ll have to see if that’s clearer in my second or third viewing. I have to say, though, that I loved the wig, and reviewer Rebecca Murray claims that “Stanley Tucci is the reason to see ‘Shall We Dance?’.”

Gradually, the camaraderie that develops between the two men in both movies is convincing as one of the reasons for the main character to continue dancing, even when his invitation to dinner is rejected by the lovely, young dance teacher, whose standing poignantly at the window of the studio was what attracted him to the lessons in the first place.

I was a bit put off by the slapstick in both versions. The effects could have been just as comical without the viewers being beaten over the head with a “This bit is really funny” dialogue or action. It ends up turning many of the characters, who have a potential for full development, into caricatures.

The older dance teacher, Tamako Tamura (played by Reiko Kusamura, who happens to be the same age as I am), so dignified and gracious in the Japanese version, becomes Miss Mitzi (played by Anita Gillette), the owner of a less-than-posh dance studio, in the American version, and a lush who sneaks nips from a bottle with no apparent reason than for a cheap laugh, except that it isn’t funny.

The female dance partner in the final competition, Japanese Toyoko (played by Eriko Watanabe) and American Bobbi (whom one critic described as “Lisa Ann Walter doing Bette Midler”), is boisterous and overdrawn in both versions, making it difficult to have sympathy for her when she collapses from the fatigue of holding down daytime jobs with long hours while spending evenings at the dance studio.

There’s a poignancy in true comedy, seen best in both versions at the climactic scene where, during the two-step – well, anyone who’s seen the movie or perhaps is even familiar with it knows very well what happens.

As for dialogue, why do Americans have to talk so much? Maybe I’ve lived in Japan too long, or gotten too used to Japanese drama with its long pauses and the camera dwelling on the somewhat expressionless faces, a compliment to the audience in that it suggests they can fill in for themselves what is taking place in the character’s mind. In one scene in particular, Clark ends up talking to himself about whether he should or shouldn’t return to the dance studio; the extra verbiage really isn’t necessary. The viewers can figure out what is dilemma is without him having to spell it out for them, and I found the self-talk distracting. The only character with very little dialogue is the assistant dance instructor, Paulina (played by Jennifer Lopez), and her body language is certainly enough to convey the basics of the relationship between her and John Clark.

My biggest complaint, however, is how quickly the American lawyer became adept at ballroom dancing. I realize that, in a 2-hour movie, it’s not possible to show all the grueling hours that it takes to learn a new skill. Having taken ballroom dance lessons once a week for 2 years, though, I can vouch for the fact that a novice doesn’t learn all the facets of the art – one that involves the whole body, including the direction of the eyes – in a few months. For me, more time on the lessons and all the aspects of learning the stance, the hip movements, the footwork, and all that is essential to expertise in ballroom dancing, would have been more rewarding and authentic. The American version simply makes it look much too easy!

I was also disappointed in the final scene, a farewell party for the young dance teacher, which doesn’t have the drama of the Japanese version with the spotlight going around the crowd as Mai (played by Tamiyo Kusakari), the dance teacher, looks for Sugimoto. Although a bit melodramatic, the suspense of whether he’ll show up or not is built up, and one breathes a sigh of relief when he dashes in, briefcase in hand, at the last minute.

In the American version, it is as though everyone was expecting Clark to show up, and, when he does, lo and behold, he has on both a tux and his dance shoes. It must have been quite a stretch for the writers to figure out a way of getting him from riding the El home to getting dressed properly, showing up at his wife’s store with a rose for her, and then making it to the party in time. It’s quite a stretch for the viewers as well.

In both versions, the young dance instructor is convincingly icy, when faced with a distasteful job – attempting to turn ugly ducklings into swans on the dance floor – and passionate, when caught up in dancing by herself or with a partner with whom she can float. I especially enjoy the instructions given by Paulina in the American version about how to do the rumba, which helped me understand the heart of the dance.

The rumba is the vertical expression of a horizontal wish. You have to hold her, like the skin on her thigh is your reason for living. Let her go, like your heart's being ripped from your chest. Throw her back, like you're going to have your way with her right here on the dance floor. And then finish, like she's ruined you for life.

There’s another in which she explains the man’s role in the waltz of acting as a frame for his partner, and I’m still searching for the full quote.

One other disappointment with the American version, though, is that it doesn’t fully explain what happened at the Blackpool Competition and what a crushing blow it was to both her and her career. (Granted that the Japanese version doesn’t handle this as adeptly as it might, since the entire incident is revealed mainly through a letter to Sugiyama at the end and a voiceover.) Also, it’s never quite clear what happened between Paulina and her former dance partner. I would love to see a 3rd version of “Shall We Dance?” in either language with this particular part of the story more fully developed.

What's lacking the most in the American version is, simply, dancing! From the title, I expected much more, not only for my own pleasure, but also because what must have been hours of dance lessons for Gere and Lopez ended up in a few, choppy unsatisfactory scenes.

I have to say that I liked the epilogue at the end of the American version, especially knowing that the klutzy, fat character (in a rather sullen portrayal by Omar Benson Miller) succeeds in getting engaged and married as a result of his dance lessons. OK, so I’m a romantic at heart. One never knows. Maybe I’ll be at an American wedding reception or my high school reunion or some other occasion where there’s dancing, and some fine gentleman will step up to me asking, “Shall we dance?”, and I’ll whirl away in his arms to a lifetime of dancing. Of course, if my partner looks anything like Richard Gere, all the better!

See an excellent review by Kuma, the Nihon Review, comparing the two versions at:

Other reviews worth reading can be found at:
Japanese (1996) version:
American (2004) version:

Monday, January 01, 2007

Time's Person of the Year Is . . .

YOU! And me. If you write a blog, you're a person of the year. If you've ever uploaded a video to YouTube or some music to Podcast, you're a person of the year. If you've ever posted a photo on Flickr, you're a person of the year. (I've done all of the above, so I guess that makes me the person of the year.)

Another place to check out is or the Japanese version that one of my Advanced Writing students is doing her paper on, Mixi.

Better, still, if you've contributed anything to Wikipedia, you are truly a person of the year. In fact, if you've even looked for any information on Wikipedia, that qualifies. And you're reading this blog, so that certainly makes you "with it"!

I thought Time magazine's choice was brilliant. This past year is when the media truly started belonging to the people. It's not that professional coverage and opinions no longer count, but a 15-year-old might write a movie review or a political commentary that is every bit as worth reading. And I'd much rather hear and see what's happening in Iraq from those in the field than from any so-called official news source.

Power to the People is here!