Nippon Adventures 2009-2010

An 11-month journey of dissertation writing in Hiroshima.

New Blog 03/26/2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — soonergirl2 @ 10:10 am

Hi, if there is anyone still following this blog, you can follow me on my new site:


Stuff to give away/sell 07/24/2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — soonergirl2 @ 11:41 am

On August 10th I leave Hiroshima for Cincinnati. Time to get myself sorted! I’ve got lots of stuff to give away/sell. If you’re interested in any of the following items get in touch with me. I’ve only owned these things for less than a year, and they are in good shape. Once you see the items in person or via photo, you tell me what you think a fair price is and it’s yours.

Double-size futon and 2 pillows

2 sets of double sheets

coat tree

Rug: brown border, grass and multi-colored threads for a stylish tatami look

coffee table

2 floor chairs w/ backs

2 floor cushions

sundry dishes

rice cooker

water boiler

pots and pans


organizational baskets

small white couch

lots of hangers (wire and plastic)

salad tosser (never used)

4 large towels

electric scale

wireless modem

internet router

a third computer router-thing that I don’t know what it is

size 8 rainbow-inspired flip flops (word 3 times)

size 8 brown walking shoes (hardly worn)

other random kitchen / bathroom organization stuff

small toaster oven


Women’s Bodies: Reflections From the Onsen 06/12/2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — soonergirl2 @ 2:18 pm

Hi everyone, I know it’s been ridiculously long since my last blog post. I have ideas about different things I’d like to take more than 150 characters to think about, but then I feel guilty when I look at my study books and realize how much more Japanese there is to learn. Let me just sum up that part of my life by saying: Japanese is hard.

On other fronts: last month I took a road trip through one of Japan’s southern islands, Kyushu. Kyushu is just a  hop and a skip away from Hiroshima, but all the expensive toll roads in Japan less enticing. A friend who has a car wanted to take advantage of relatively cheaper toll roads, which would be expiring soon and returning to higher rates. Plus, after a long cold winter and a long Golden Week vacation (when offices around the country are closed) it seemed like the right time to make our way to slightly warmer climes. It was a wonderful chance to see Japan by car–something I had never done before as I’m usually gazing from a train window instead. For the first time I saw the images most people think of when they think of Japan: tiled old-fashioned roofs, terraced rice paddies that come right up to the edge of the road, nothing but small houses and beautiful green landscapes for miles and miles, and so much ocean. The Japan that I live in is densely packed with varying shades of gray concrete apartments and offices buildings, telephone polls, the noise of public transportation, and bicycles. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but the countryside was a nice break from urban living.

Two of my traveling partners are serious onsen lovers. Onsen means public bath, and here there are tons of small public bath houses featuring water from a surprising variety of naturally heated mineral springs. The bath houses are separated by gender, and range from extremely quiet (where maybe you are the only one there) to bustling. You go in nude after a good soapy rub down outside the water. As I learned, it’s rude to introduce anything other than skin into the water, even a hand towel needs to stay out of the bath. Because of my friends’ serious love, vacation for them means onsen, and so nearly every night during our trip we found a local place to try out. The traveling crew consisted of 2 guys and 2 girls, and often we were nearly the only ones there. When there were just the two of us, we chatted, but also spent some time quietly soaking up the heat and healthy minerals.

However, there were a couple of times when we went to busy onsens, we even had the good fortune to make a stop in Nagasaki to one of Japan’s largest public bath houses. Here I had the opportunity to learn more about the culture of onsen, the way women interact with one another when there’s nothing but skin between them, and to think a bit about what it means to live in a woman’s body.

Obviously, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about what it means to be a woman. I remember vividly the day my first period started during middle school sometime between language arts and lunch. Even though the boobs had been arriving before this moment, marking my passage into some other life and generating looks from grown men that I knew weren’t quite right, I wasn’t prepared. Truthfully, in my humiliation at having a soiled skirt at school I felt betrayed by my body. Since then I’ve come to a kind of peace with the physical trials and tribulations of being born female. Maybe even sometimes I think it’s pretty cool (of course, those aren’t the times when I’m curled up in a ball reaching for a glass of water and ibuprofin as I ride out some cramps). But something that has always bothered me is the way that women in the United States are physically so visible in the public sphere–from Britney’s accidental full frontal to the carefully manicured limbs, breasts, and bellies of super skinny models–and yet women are so shrouded in invisibility in many other ways.

Essentially, I know what women are suppose to look like in order to be sexually desirable, but I don’t have a very accurate picture in my mind of what happens to women’s bodies over time: Enter the onsen. Here, there are women’s bodies from birth to death. Little ones just getting accustomed to walking on their own (and hopefully potty trained), prepubescent girls, teens, women in their 20s, mothers, and finally grandmas. I find the variety of the form itself fascinating. For example, different women carry their excess fat in different places–mine is the belly (the Gibson curse, I call it), but here in Japan the genetic trend is a flat belly and bigger hips and thighs. The trend is also skinny (though that is changing, and hopefully I’ll make time to blog about that later). Some women have longer limbs, shorter waists–you spend so much time looking at the figures of a particular kind of woman (super model), that it can be rather eye-opening to see how different we all are.

Perhaps it’s merely idealism, but it seemed to me that the onsen is an interesting space where women interact with one another outside the male gaze. The look here is frank, matter of fact, unsurprised, and between family members–loving. Little girls trail after older sisters and their mothers, unsure and figuring out the rules (I joined them in this). The young women are more confident, they come alone or with friends, maybe begrudgingly including a younger sister. One of my favorite moments came when two friends in their early twenties filled an old-fashioned wooden barrel with water and sat down in it together, the sides of their bodies coming together, their laughter spilling out as quickly as the water gushing onto the floor. Mothers often strike a balance between intimacy and encouraging independence. The onsen is about fellowship, but in the end it’s actually about a relationship with your own body, one you navigate in the presence of others.

Finally, I’d like to say a word about the grandmas–some still slender despite the sagging and standing tall, others bent and curved in ways you know must be painful, all of them quiet and contemplative even in the midst of more chatty younger girls and women. Their presence makes this something other than a pool-side adventure. At the slightest hint of splashing, moving too quickly, talking too loudly, the grandmas have a way of making you feel you’re intruding. The onsen is their place after all. They’ve spent decades here shedding their clothes, and perhaps momentarily, the expectations of being women FOR men. They’ve lived inside all the various incarnations of a woman’s body and soon they will become something other than body. They’ve endured the hopes and betrayals that come with the territory of being born with two X chromosomes, and in the slow and steady movement towards the end you can feel their pleasure at having this one moment to do nothing other than indulge the vessel that has changed so much since that day they first came screaming into this world.


Engagement 04/02/2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — soonergirl2 @ 7:05 pm

As most of you know, this St. Patrick’s Day, Nick and I got engaged. That, in and of itself, includes a fairly hilarious story that almost had me following in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, who asked Prince Albert to marry her (I suppose no one can really presume to ask a queen to marry him, so I told myself). In ignorance of my plans, however, Nick popped the question just hours before I would have delivered my carefully planned proposal. That’s what I call perfect timing.

Getting hitched has been mostly a wonderful experience. I highly recommend it. Yet it dawned on me the other day, that there were some somber realities mixed in with the happiness and joy. Namely, marriage is probably above all else, a promise to fight every impulse to put yourself first. Of course this shouldn’t mean years of selfless devotion where one practices the art of martyrdom. The “not putting yourself first” can’t be so easily subsumed within the equally egoistic impulse to “put another first.” As all our pop-psychology books have been explaining for decades, “putting another first” is really just a way to bind another to us, which is still a symptom of the “me” syndrome–it’s called co-dependency. Rather, promising love, loyalty, and respect within the confines of marriage requires measuring your reactions and impulses according to the rhythms and demands of your relationship. Relationship: as in a relation between two or more people.

Over the years, I’ve been uneasy with the idea of marriage. I was in love and dated someone for years who was adamantly “ideologically” opposed to marriage as a bourgeois institution. There are many good arguments to support this proposition, as I recreate the discussion, two points come to mind (they must have been the most persuasive to me): 1) married people stunt their growth by keeping themselves within another’s shadow and by promising to a set of conditions they may eventually outgrow; 2) marriage is politically regressive because a married couple suffocates the communal impulses within the much restrained dyad. In other words, couples assume they have no larger responsibilities than the marriage, and it becomes an excuse to exit out of the politically charged communal world. After the break-up I became suspicious about the sincerity of the ideological claims. Now, I think there’s a lot of truth to the critique, but that it’s a limited way of understanding the radical potentials that have made marriage something a number of intelligent, politically committed people have chosen to do (I use the word political here as that which relates to the larger social world).

One of the events that helped reshape my attitudes about the institution of marriage was the wedding of my best friend. She asked me to read something at her nuptial celebrations and it got me thinking. I’ve included the contents of the speech below while thinking again about what being engaged means within the larger question of engagement. After all, it seems to me that learning to not put yourself first (otherwise generally known as “becoming an adult”) does not begin and end with a marriage. Marriage according to this line of thought, then, could become something very different from a retreat from the world. It could become its opposite: an engagement with the fundamental nature of relation itself, which is nothing short of the way we live and share this world with others. Of course, as with everything, it’s up to the participants to transform potential into reality.


Melissa and Drew have asked me to say a few words on the occasion of their marriage. I won’t pretend to have wise words of advice on how marriage is done. I suspect, anyway, that each and every marriage is a singular creation – that whatever rules there are, are made as you go. But since Melissa and Drew have asked me to speak here today, I’ve had the opportunity to think a little about the institution of marriage and the event of the wedding. And I’d like to share these thoughts with you.

An honest appraisal of marriage would suggest that it’s an institution better left abandoned. The political history is one of inequality and exploitation – a transfer of property from one social group to the next. And its modern expression doesn’t seem to be much better. Everyday we hear of abandonment and betrayal, or co-dependency and a desperate desire to be anything but alone.

So in a world of choices, in the midst of this institutional mess, why marriage? Why now? I would like to offer that the answer lies precisely in the question of choice. We’re a people used to getting out of responsibility: why should I pay taxes, why should I work harder than the slacker next door, why should I bother recycling? We’re the same way about the bigger things, too. We’re full of excuses: well, my childhood was really messed up; or, I don’t even know those people; and the most used of all, I’m just one person what could I possibly do? Add to this a world of exponentially increasing options and we have a situation where we can move freely from town to town, from one person to the next, without ever having to be hampered by the constricting desires or needs of any other person. When a situation is no longer ideal or easy there are a thousand ways to move on. But what is it that gets lost amidst this never ending pursuit for a life without restriction? What gets lost is the responsibility of choosing.

To choose is to make a stand. To choose is to cut through the fears and fantasies that actually keep us from fulfilling our deepest longings. Marriage as choice is to become accountable to another – to choose a life of accountability. Accountability is, after all, the central condition of living, for this is a world we share with others. Indeed life is itself that sharing, that being exposed. In choosing to radically share their lives with each other, Melissa and Drew accept the fundamental challenge of our times. It is the act of accepting this challenge we witness here today, and it is this acceptance – which love teaches us – that all our hopes for tomorrow are built upon.

A wedding isn’t the singular expression of that choice – that happens everyday for the rest of their lives together. It is, however, the constitutive expression of that choice. The wedding sets the terms and the tone – that’s why it’s so sad when we go to boring, formulaic weddings. But a wedding that seeks to challenge the strictures of the institution enacts a rescue mission, to save everything that is beautiful and true and freeing about two people who want to spend the rest of their lives loving and choosing each other.

A wedding is also a gift. A gift, not only for the two people entering into marriage, but for the community that gathers around the event. The wedding brings together a group of family, friends, and strangers, and thus the gift is that gathering. Yet the wedding is another kind of gift, or rather, the gift of wedding as community is a gathering and a calling. This wedding comes to us as a call, a cry coming out of the night, addressing each of us by name, moving us to action and engagement with the world. Today we are here to celebrate the coming together of two choices, but we are also being asked whether we, ourselves, have created lives of accountability. We are being reminded that the highest form of love takes place as a decision to share our lives with others, and this happens both between individuals and as a community, in the giving and receiving without measure.


Published in The New York Times 02/07/2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — soonergirl2 @ 1:50 pm

So, my letter to the editor made it in The New York Times. AFTER, several rounds of editing: I’ve posted the back and forth of the revision and re-revision in the previous posts to the blog. The whole experience has been rather strange. Do they edit every “letter to the editor” like they did mine? I find that hard to believe.

I’m surprised by how much they stylistically edited, but also, by how much they tried to substantively interfere. Here’s an example of the kind of “editing” I find bizarre, and remember, this is A LETTER TO THE EDITOR, not journalistic piece. During the final editorial wrangle, the editor wanted to take my reference to the administration out because, as he explained it, that would need evidence to support it. WTF? Here was my response:


I’d be a bit upset if that part of the letter is removed–without it one might suppose it’s all just “market forces” when it fact there is something else going on.

There is indeed lots of evidence to support this. Any look at the profession’s main journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, indicates this, and it has been the subject of many books including: How the University Works by Marc Bousquet (2008) and The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities by Frank Donoghue (2008).

For a specific reference (and one close to home, written by a professor in my department), check out Professor Tim Brennan’s editorial to the Minneapolis Star Tribune on this subject


As you can see, they kept the line in there, but I have no idea why I had to argue about keeping MY argument in MY letter to the editor. Have any of you had a similar experience or know of someone else who had a letter to the editor published in NYT?

Well, anyway, this was all a tempest in a tea pot I am sure, and given it’s back-page, tucked away in a “url”-on-the-backside-of-cyberspace location, it won’t really meaningfully contribute to the conversation we all need to be having about what is happening to our universities. Those of us IN it, already know the ugly truth too well. So far, we aren’t having a whole lot of luck getting other people to hear us. It’s a sad position to be in. A student of mine contacted me this week, ironically, about going to grad school. As someone who values the life of the mind I want to be encouraging, but I also feel as though responsibility dictates I warn her against doing it.

How did I get here?

And now I’m off to work on the dissertation, an endeavor that continually has the wind sucked out of its sails by the harsh reality my career faces.


NYT Saga Continues 02/04/2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — soonergirl2 @ 9:09 pm

Here’s the body of my response to the “edited” version of my letter and below that, my re-edit.


Reviewing the edits for space, I felt the essence of my comments had been lost. Therefore, I rewrote my letter to better reflect the character and word limits. The body of the version you sent me clocked in at 972 characters (w/spaces) and 154 words. The one I offer in return has 987 characters (w/spaces) and 156 words. I think the way I frame it at the end may also underscore the importance of the issue for a reader of the Business Section.


I would like to remind your readers that there are those of us for whom teaching college is a profession we have dedicated nearly a decade of training for, only to face permanent economic insecurity and deplorable working conditions. The elimination of tenure-track positions began long before this recent economic downturn. Those of us facing (and trapped within) the downward spiral of adjuncting have watched the consolidation of an administrative class, and a fundamental alteration of the nature of college education.

The American university has long positioned itself as a place where the twin goals of research and teaching are brought together to promote the advancement of thought. This model has largely explained why the best students from all over the world covet degrees, particularly graduate degrees, from American institutions. The question we should be asking is what the casualization of the academic labor market means for our ability to continue as a leader of ideas.


NYT Edits / Re-writes My Letter

Filed under: Uncategorized — soonergirl2 @ 10:00 am

So the NYT might publish the letter I sent them a few days in response to their terrible article about adjuncting as a resume builder (see previous blog entry). I just spoke with the section editor (Sunday Times Business Section), who sent an edited version of the letter that they might print if there is space. Ummmm… this feels like a different letter. Totally bland, totally toothless. Is it just me?

To the Editor:

Had the article examined the controversy surrounding the increase in adjunct positions at many universities, it would have offered a better account of why these positions are available.

These are tough economic times, to be sure, but an elimination of tenure-track positions began long before this downturn. Many of us in the profession [MAYBE EXPLAIN HOW YOU ARE IN THE PROFESSION, AS A DOCTORAL CANDIDATE?] have been discussing this distressing trend as more than a budget-saving maneuver. It’s also altering the fundamental nature of college education in this country.

The American university has long positioned itself as a place where the twin goals of research and teaching are brought together to promote new ideas. This model has largely explained why the best students from all over the world covet degrees, particularly graduate degrees, from American institutions.

Many of us are fiercely attached to these goals, but wonder what the current trend means for them.

Alicia Gibson

Hiroshima, Japan, [CORRECT?]Jan. 31#

The writer, a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, is a research fellow at the Hiroshima Peace Institute. [CORRECT?]