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Two posts ago (Oct 17th) I told you about
how I was asked by the CBC to record a radio
story. I ended that post by writing, "If
anyone out there lives in the Tokyo area
and would be kind enough to lend me their
recording equipment that would be wonderful."
This request seems to have rubbed a few readers
the wrong way, and the comments from that
day have been plentiful and heated, both
from my defenders and detractors.
I was surprised at the debate generated by
the apparent rudeness of my request, but
it's actually quite common for readers to
focus in on one seemingly minor and tangential
point in a post (from my perspective) and
run with it. It's one of the more satisfying
parts of blogging -- seeing what people do
with your words.
I'm not going to defend the civility or intent
of my recorder request here, I'll leave that
up to you to decide, but what I would like
to talk about, what all of this debate has
made me think about, is blog writing style,
voice, and reader relationship.
The funny thing about this 'rude request'
debate is that when I first wrote the request
I actually did make an offer of trade. I
wrote something like, "If anybody would
be kind enough to lend me their DVD recorder
I'd be happy to give them a photo print or
something else in exchange." However,
this just didn't seem right to me, so I edited
it out. Of course I would have given something
I think that the reason I took the remuneration
part out was because I was vaguely imagining
that I was talking to one of my friends here
in Tokyo, like Jeremy, or Nadine, or Kurt, when I wrote the request. I'm lucky in
that I happen to know a lot of Hunkabutta
readers here in Tokyo.
But you know, as a matter of course, I always
try to write as if I'm talking directly to
a friend, and I kind of forgot that until
one of the people who took offense at my
request pointed it out in the comments:
"well i guess what the 'grinches' are
saying is that not everyone who looks at
this blog considers themselves 'friendly'
with the author."
"i was just trying to say that i don't
want to be addressed as though i'm the author's
In my case, the only reason that I read personal
blogs is so that I can pretend that I'm friends
with the author, so I think this person's
opinion on this point is a bit strange, but
he's absolutely right in regards to my tone.
I do talk to you like you're my friend. That's
why I use the word 'you' when I write. I
think it's the most powerful word in the
English language. If I wanted to I could
easily write in a more distant and abstract
tone and say things like, 'If the reader
will kindly look at the picture of...', but
that's a crappy way to write. It's academic.
I'm not talking to 'my readers', I'm talking
to you. YOU. You sitting there at your computer
with your eyes on the screen and your hand
on your mouse.
Personal blog writing is a new and evolving
genre. There's no standardized format or
style for the author to fall back on, no
clearly defined contract between the author
and the reader.
It's difficult to write a readable blog for
several reasons. Most blog writers are coming
from an academic background where they've
learned a bland and abstract writing style.
Also, with the recent advent of blog comments
(which I think are wonderful), if you talk
about any issue of even minor social import
or sensitivity (read interesting) then you
risk being attacked and shouted down by readers
who disagree with you. But probably the biggest
reason that it's difficult to write readable
blog copy is because it's not always clear
exactly what a blog 'is', although it's usually
pretty clear what it's 'not'. It seems
that people are often at a loss for
what to write about.
We don't know what literary space a personal
blog is supposed to fill. For example, a
personal blog is not an academic treatise
because the author's personality and character
always play such a central role, and readers
generally expect a small amount of easily
digestible text. A blog is not one of the
standard fiction formats (i.e., novel, short
story) because, again, the author's personality
takes center stage, and also because blog
writing generally doesn't have any linear
plot development. A blog is not even a diary
because it's not private and it's meant to
entertain or stimulate others. In fact, personal
blogs are not really like any other type
of writing that we've ever had because with
reader comments the personal weblog has become
an interactive and organic textual experience.
The blog has a life of its own that goes
beyond the author and enters the realm of
So the problem still remains -- What then
is a blog? Sorry, but I don't know, though
I can tell you this: The blog experience
is essentially a voyeuristic one, and if
there is one fundamental ingredient in voyeurism
it is intimacy. I think that readers demand
intimacy. That's what they've come looking
for. Unfortunately, the catch 22 of blogging
is that the more popular and widely read
your blog becomes the more difficult it is
to maintain the level of intimacy the reader
expects, and the more difficult it becomes
to maintain the honesty that that intimacy
NOTE: All of today's pictures are from my
trip to Canada this past summer. I recently
found them while doing some computer housekeeping
and realized that if I didn't get them out
and into the blog soon then they'd just end
up getting buried in the computer and never
see the light of day.
I hope you enjoy the break from Japan.
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I still remember the first time that I was
using a public urinal in Japan and the cleaning
lady walked in and started to mop up around
my feet. I stopped peeing so quickly out
of fright that I think I popped a kidney.
I've never found Japanese people to be especially
modest about their bodies: One peek into
a public bath house and you'll see what I
mean. However, there is one part of their
anatomy which I have noticed they have a
tendency to hide in awkward situations: their
I'll give you two examples of what
Yesterday Karen and I went to the dentist
to get our teeth cleaned. As expected, the
place was immaculate; absolutely spotless.
The hygienist, a sweet young girl with shiny
eyes peering out over her surgical mask,
had two assistants and was very professional.
Just before she leaned into my mouth to scrape
six months worth of Starbucks off of my teeth,
she ask me if I would like a towel.
"A towel?" I asked.
"Yes", she said. "To
I guess the idea is that it's too uncomfortable
to have someone else's face so close up to
yours. I mean, what are you supposed to do
with your eyes? Where's a guy to look, y'know?
I refused the towel, but on the way out I
looked into another room and saw a guy in
there getting his teeth cleaned. He had a
navy blue towel wrapped around his face and
neck so that only his wide gaping mouth was
My second face hiding example has to do with
Karen. When she was pregnant
she went to the clinic for
checkups. It turns out that in Japan, when
the woman gets up on the table for examination
and the doctor is 'down under', they have
a little curtain that can be drawn over the
woman's torso so that her upper half is completely
shielded from view. The woman and the doctor
can't see each other. Karen always whipped that curtain aside.
I think that I would have liked a little
curtain around my torso that first time at the public urinal.
Though I noticed, that cleaning lady never
did look me in the face.
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I got some interesting news the other day.
I've been asked by the CBC to do a radio
story about my work as a weekend wedding
pastor. For those of you not from the Great
White North, the CBC is more or less the
Canadian equivalent of England's BBC.
You can listen to some sample CBC radio
on the producer's personal website:
The only problem is, I don't have any
quality recording equipment. They like
use mini discs.
If anyone out there lives in the Tokyo area
and would be kind enough to lend me their
recording equipment that would be wonderful.
Please send me an email: email@example.com.
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You all know that Japan is famous for vending
machines. They're ubiquitous and sell every
imaginable type of thing from drinks to porno
movies, bottles of whiskey, cigarettes, and
even used panties. I love the vending machines,
if not for their convenience, but because
they symbolize the relatively crime-free
nature of Japan. However, there's one thing,
try as I might, that I have never been able
to find in a Japanese vending machine: bad
Let me explain. I'm a Canadian. But not just
that, I'm a Canadian who can't play hockey. As a matter of fact, I can barely skate.
I know... it's kind of strange. The thing
is, growing up, almost everyone that I knew
did play hockey, my friends, the guys from
school, even my dad, so I ended up spending
a lot of time in ice rinks watching other
people play. And you know what? It was always
boring. It sucked. I can't stand watching
sports, even when I know the people playing.
However, there was one thing that I always
looked forward to: the 'chicken soup' that
was sold in the vending machines at the rink.
I don't know why I liked the 'soup' so much,
it actually tasted like shit. It wasn't even
really soup. It was only hot water added
to powdered chicken stock in a paper cup;
there were no noodles, no actual chicken.
But it was hot. And it was salty. It was
really salty. And I would suck it through
my teeth and let it glide over my tongue
in a rush of MSG and mineralized tap water
and have it end up all snug and content in
my sweater-wrapped belly.
Getting up and going to the vending machine
gave me an excuse to leave my seat and avoid
watching the game. When I got the soup I
would hold it in both hands to ward off the
cold and slowly walk around the empty cement
hallways listening to my own footsteps and
explore the unmanned snack booths that always
stank of spilled soda and old ketchup and
peek into the cavernous toilets that always
stank of piss and urinal mints.
Then I would go back to my seat and the game
would be that much closer to being over.
All thanks to my vending machine soup.
Anyway, maybe it's time for me to set
my own crappy Canadian chicken soup
machine here in Tokyo. Or else, maybe
just stop trying to avoid the game
to get busy with things again.