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Hard work doesn’t have to feel hard

Comic books are for serious learning. No, really.

There is something counterintuitive about language learning that presents a roadblock to students: when done correctly, it doesn’t feel difficult.

I’m a huge fan of a manga called Attack on Titan. Last week, the latest volume of the manga was released. Of course, I had it preordered on my Kindle Fire (an excellent gift from my wife a year or so ago). That means that it was downloaded and ready to go in the morning, well before the book stores opened, and I finished reading it before any had opened.

Of course, the manga is in Japanese. The good news for me is that the Japanese in Attack on Titan is about mid-level in difficulty. What that means is that I can read it quickly, and I meet a new or rare word only once every few pages. Usually I can guess the meaning of the word without looking it up. Depending on the amount of text, I may not need to look up any words to understand the plot like a Japanese person would. Reading it isn’t difficult for me.

Some people might think that consuming material of such low difficulty will prevent me from progressing in my Japanese learning. That’s where they are wrong.

Language learning is a numbers game. You will never be able to memorize a word the first time you hear or read it (unless you are a rare kind of genius). You need to be repeatedly exposed to the word, and then recall the word after some time has passed, for you to successfully memorize it. There is no shortcut.

While reading the latest volume of Attack on Titan, I came across a word that comes up semi-regularly in the series: 彷徨う、samayo, wander. It’s not a word I hear used often in daily conversations. Typically, if teachers come upon a student wandering the halls during class time, they get angry and yell, 「うろうろするな」。They don’t like it when students うろうろ, uro-uro。 But, I never hear them say 彷徨う、which essentially has the same meaning. There are many words that are written, but not really spoken, in Japanese, and 彷徨う is one of them.

As far as I can recall, Attack on Titan is the only source of the word that I’ve encountered. The first two or three times I read it, I looked it up in a dictionary. But, when it popped up again in the latest volume, I didn’t need to look it up. I read and understood it the first time.

To be clear, I learned a fairly unusual word from an easy-to-me source of Japanese that the average teacher would never consider using in a classroom. Classrooms are for serious material, like textbooks and Powerpoint presentations, not comic books.

There is meaning in that.

Do what feels good, baby.

People are constantly told by our environment that valuable, real things, only come with significant effort. That’s usually true. However, the mistake we make is believing that the effort to get those things must feel difficult.

Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes we need to make special efforts to find time, make plans, and meet with a man or woman that we like. We are often forced to confront menial, mind-numbing tasks in order to get to the good stuff. Or maybe we have to do the exhausting, messy work we hate after doing the stuff we like.

But when we work hard, it doesn’t always have to feel hard.

I was, unfortunately, a victim of the hard-work-means-bad-feelings mind virus for a significant portion of my life. Even now, I have to regulate that feeling. For much of my life, I wanted to learn how to program. However, I had the dumb idea that I needed to be a real programmer. I needed to be able to take on the biggest challenges and do the most difficult kinds of programming. My dad advised me to learn a programming language called Visual Basic. It was almost an insult to ask me to learn anything basic. Basic wasn’t for me because easy meant fake, useless, not worthy of respect. So instead of learning Visual Basic (perhaps one of the more useful programming languages to know), I tried to learn Lisp, a niche programming language that was said to be good for programming AI. That sounded hard, so it was obvious to me that Lisp was a real programming language.

And yes, it was hard. In fact, it was so hard that it perhaps was the final straw, after many years of trying to learn to program, that made me decide to abandon programming altogether. Instead, I decided to focus all my energy on learning Japanese.

My experience learning Japanese has taught me that learning isn’t about the feeling of effort, only the effort itself. If we can find an activity that is valuable to ourselves and others, and it doesn’t feel like it takes any effort or energy for us to practice and master that activity, we are in the ideal place. That’s the place that dreams come true.

The hard work of learning languages is exposing yourself to sources of input for long periods of time, trying to understand, and then using what you’ve repeatedly exposed yourself to.

“Repeat after me” for more brain damage

But, there’s a problem: Teachers understand that repetition is the key to learning language, but they often fail to understand or act upon the more important principles: energy and attention.

I will never feel exhausted after reading Attack on Titan. I could read it over and over and never feel bored. Reading it doesn’t take energy from me; it gives me energy. Proof of that is that I can focus all of my attention on it without being distracted. In fact, thoughts of Attack on Titan distract me while I’m doing other activities.

I have yet to preorder a Japanese textbook.

During a class last week, one teacher I work with made students do a repetition activity that I can only describe as inhumane. Imagine that the students were reading the previous sentence for this repetition activity. The activity went like this:

Teacher, reading out loud from a textbook: “During”.
Students, repeating out loud: “During”.
T: During a.
S: During a.
T: During a class.
S: During a class.

T: During a class this week…inhumane.
S: During a class this week…inhumane.

After a couple of sentences, the teacher asked me to take over. I had to hold back laughter when I saw one of the high-level, serious students being put to sleep by the activity. A young man that is usually active and well-behaved in class was forced unconscious. The other students were no more eager to follow along. However, they did, because the teacher is notorious for his short temper and strict enforcement of order and student participation. As he forced me to participate in the mass torture of 30 innocent students, I couldn’t help but feel a sick amusement. It was like watching those compilation videos of people falling and hurting themselves, except I was the guy putting the banana peel on the ground and making them slip. And I knew it. I knew this was the worse activity any teacher had made me conduct. I looked at that young man and thought, “Oh shit, this has to be causing brain damage.”

And it does cause brain damage. People are programmed by years of unrelenting torture in the classroom to believe that learning, like you get in school, must feel difficult and that you have to simply push through the torture. Then they try learning something like Japanese and think that if they are having too much fun and everything is too easy, they aren’t really learning.

Mass self-torture can be prevented if teachers understand that attention and energy from students must be earned. You can’t demand it without negative consequences. They absolutely fail their students and set them on a bad path by using their authority to force order and participation.

But, I don’t blame teachers for not understanding. The culture of education encourages them to conduct their classes the way they do. They have no great need to please their students when they can demand their attention and obedience.

The situation is further complicated by the individual interests of all the students. Even if teachers want to make the class interesting for the students, how can they possibly do so for all of the students? Won’t there simply be a few who never will be interested in the subject they teach?

Nobody cares…why should I?

It’s difficult to understand the challenge that teachers face. Let me paint a picture.

In a seventh grade class, there are two students that have tapped out very early in their educational careers. The boy and girl both consistently nod off during class. Long ago, they gave up even trying to follow along. They don’t see the value of English, and are completely unintimidated by any fear-mongering from the teacher about how much they’ll regret not studying later in life. The problem was bad especially at the beginning of the school year because students were still a bit rowdy, unaccustomed to life as junior high school students. They were more chatty and a greater number of students were showing early signs of giving up.

It was a dangerous time. Unproductive behaviors, if repeated, are called bad habits. Further, behaviors are contagious. Habits spread, whether good or bad. When they spread, they become what we call culture. And for many reasons, bad habits are more contagious than good ones.

If the boy who isn’t interested is talking and the teacher doesn’t do anything, that feels like permission to lose interest and to chat during class.

If the teacher doesn’t care if he does that, why should I care? If my friends wanna chat, why shouldn’t I chat? If they nap during class, why shouldn’t I? If English doesn’t matter to them, why should it matter to me?

Classrooms have their own culture, but students are members of the broader cultures of family, neighborhood, and nation. If mom and dad don’t care about my English test scores, why should I listen to the teacher? Why don’t mom and dad care? Because they notice that their neighbors, their friends, and their coworkers all speak Japanese and don’t need English. Is English really necessary?

Teachers are often at odds with very large, powerful forces that they are unprepared to challenge. Teachers can’t keep the attention of their students because their students are focused on their friends, family, and their nation’s cultural values. Students feel like their English teachers are wasting their time. Teachers demand attention and respect, but we direct our attention only at things that we think are interesting. Other ways of saying interesting are valuable, important, thought-provoking, or entertaining.

The Japanese word 面白い、omoshiroi, has two meanings. It often is used to mean “funny”, as in funny-haha (not funny-weird). However, it can also mean 興味深い、kyomibukai, “thought-provoking”.

If teachers don’t make their subjects 面白い, then they will always be forced to use fear and punishment to demand grudged attention and participation from their students.

But, each student has their own interests. How are teachers supposed to cater to all of their students’ interests? It seems like an impossible task. Much easier to simply beat their students over the head with fear and punishment for being bad students.

Bad habits are contagious preciously because they are usually easier than the alternatives.

I think I have a solution to the problem. Nothing changes for the better if we don’t first change our mindset. I have painted a dark picture of the situation, but there is hope. That hope can be expressed in three words.

You are important.

I have one teacher who makes her students repeat the same mantras at the beginning of every class.

Help each other
Be Original
Learn from your friends
Express your ideas
Hole in one

Keep smiling
English only
Eye contact
Pronunciation
Compliment
High five
Action
Reaction
Gesture
Energy
KEEP CHARGE

However, I think she would be better off with just one sentence.

You are important.

She learned the mantras from some other source that probably told her that reminding the students to do all those nice things can actually influence them in a good direction. It also reminds the students what the teacher expects from them.

Or maybe she learned that ideal classes express the above behavior. Asking students to express that behavior would lead to the ideal classroom environment.

Here is the problem: That’s a lot of words, and they become hypnotizing, meaningless noise if the students aren’t reminded of the importance of them. How can the teacher remind them? Well, she can model the behavior. Challenging, but doable. She can remind them of the mantras. But what if they don’t buy what she’s selling?

She has a difficult class that these mantras have no effect on. The class culture is very bad. Students laugh at each other when they make mistakes. They love sarcasm. They talk constantly and are easily distracted from class material. It’s unsafe for the teacher to introduce any interesting information or encourage discussion of the material because students immediately get sidetracked. They roll their eyes when she scolds them. They show little respect for the teacher or the system they are in.

They are absolutely obsessed with each other, though. Certain students are clearly the leaders of the classroom. They take the teacher’s scoldings directly and laugh them off. Other students support the leaders so that they don’t have to take the scoldings themselves. They feed off each other’s energy and behavior.

How does the teacher handle them? Fear and punishment. Does it work? Not so far.

One time, she was absent from school. The next day, she said that she went to the doctor. She “joked” that it was due to work stress. Just a joke, she assured me. As the school year has dragged on, her words have become more aggressive and adversarial towards the students. She is a teacher at war.

She has reminded them repeatedly that their ability to get into good schools will be affected by their test scores. If they don’t pay attention to what she teaches, then their test scores will suffer. As a result, they won’t get into good schools and their futures may suffer. They need to “feel nervous” (she literally said that) and to take studying more seriously because what they do now will effect their future. Further, if they talk, they aren’t only hurting themselves. They are hurting the serious students, their friends, too.

In other words, she is saying that the hard work of following her lessons might feel hard, but there’s no choice unless they want to ruin their lives.

Those mantras aren’t working. The teacher’s actions are like holding up an “Applause” sign, being ignored, and then getting angry at the audience.

But how can you be angry that people don’t pay attention? How can you be angry that people are easily distracted by things that they see as more important than what you are doing?

There is a better way. As I was observing this class, I remembered something I learned from one of Dale Carnegie’s books, How To Win Friends and Influence People. In one section titled “How to Make People Like You”, Carnegie writes:

Philosophers have been speculating on the rules of human relationships for thousands of years, and out of all that speculation, there has evolved only one important precept. It is not new. It is as old as history. Zoroaster taught it to his followers in Persia twenty-five hundred years ago. Confucius preached it in China twenty-four centuries ago. Lao-tse, the founder of Taoism, taught it to his disciples in the Valley of the Han. Buddha preached it on the bank of the Holy Ganges five hundred years before Christ. The sacred books of Hinduism taught it a thousand years before that. Jesus taught it among the stony hills of Judea nineteen centuries ago. Jesus summed it up in one thought—probably the most important rule in the world: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

 

You want the approval of those with whom you come in contact. You want recognition of your true worth. You want a feeling that you are important in your little world. You don’t want to listen to cheap, insincere flattery, but you do crave sincere appreciation. You want your friends and associates to be, as Charles Schwab put it, “hearty in their approbation and lavish in their praise.” All of us want that.

So let’s obey the Golden Rule, and give unto others what we would have others give unto us, How? When? Where? The answer is: All the time, everywhere.

People want to feel important. So, make them feel important!

Carnegie then gives an example of how a school teacher applied this philosophy.

The life of many a person could probably be changed if only someone would make him feel important. Ronald J. Rowland, who is one of the instructors of our course in California, is also a teacher of arts and crafts. He wrote to us about a student named Chris in his beginning crafts class:

 

Chris was a very quiet, shy boy lacking in self-confidence, the kind of student that often does not receive the attention he deserves. I also teach an advanced class that had grown to be somewhat of a status symbol and a privilege for a student to have earned the right to be in it. On Wednesday, Chris was diligently working at his desk. I really felt there was a hidden fire deep inside him. I asked Chris if he would like to be in the advanced class. How I wish I could express the look in Chris’s face, the emotions in that shy fourteen-year-old boy, trying to hold back his tears.

 

“Who me, Mr. Rowland? Am I good enough?” “Yes, Chris, you are good enough.” I had to leave at that point because tears were coming to my eyes. As Chris walked out of class that day, seemingly two inches taller, he looked at me with bright blue eyes and said in a positive voice, “Thank you, Mr. Rowland.”

 

Chris taught me a lesson I will never forget—our deep desire to feel important. To help me never forget this rule, I made a sign which reads “YOU ARE IMPORTANT.” This sign hangs in the front of the classroom for all to see and to remind me that each student I face is equally important.

Although the situation in that story and the situation in my English teacher’s classroom are very different, I think that You are important is a simple idea with deep meaning. It means:

You have my attention.
You are worthy of attention.
Others are watching what you do.
Others are counting on you.
What you do matters.
Your life matters.
I and other people expect great things of you.

Tool of Persuasion: Pacing

I thought a lot about whether in modern society, telling students You are important might be counter productive. Especially in the US, students often appear to have over-inflated egos. As a former young person, I can say with confidence that many young people think they are important. Is it really responsible for teachers to feed their students’ egos? Shouldn’t students feel humbled by their teachers and pay attention to the very important things the teacher has to say?

The great students of persuasion will say no.

Before leaders can change minds, first they have to synchronize with the people they wish to lead. Scott Adams calls it Pacing. Pacing means using the same words, body language, and expressing the things you have in common with the people you want to lead. Once you pace them, you are in a good place to lead them by expressing different opinions.

Why Pace first? Because by Pacing, you build trust with those you wish to lead. People like and trust those with whom they share something in common. Once someone likes and trusts you, you are in a position to change their mind. Your disagreement doesn’t pose a threat because they believe you have their best interests in mind.

Do students in my teacher’s English classroom think they are important? Yes. Much more important than the teacher and the study material. They and their friends are #1. Before any teacher can lead them, first they need to know that the teacher agrees with them on that point. In fact, if the teacher doesn’t express a genuine appreciation for the importance of her students, her students will not trust that she has their best interests in mind.

She doesn’t care about us. She only wants to torture us with boring questions, activities, and robotic busy-work. She wants us to shut up because that makes her job easier. She’s just mad that our bad grades make her look like a bad teacher. She knows English isn’t important, so she’s just wasting our time. It’s all about her.

If I’m being honest, I’m somewhat sympathetic to that line of thinking. She comes off very robotic and disinterested in making students enjoy English. She plays music at the beginning of class, but then cuts it off—for time—at the end, then sucks the fun out of it by making the students read it again and record how many words they read. She doesn’t seem to even pay attention to the students much of the time. (As an example, it took her about 20 minutes into one class to realize that a boy in the front row had drawn a somewhat clownish design on his face with marker.) She has even told me that she tries to keep students busy so that they don’t have time to goof off.

What she says often appears to the students to be attacks on them and what they think is important. She tries to persuade them with fear and punishment, but that only serves to entrench them further. It makes it more difficult for students to look like “good” students because they then appear to ally themselves with the enemy. They see comfort and unity together—against her. To them, she looks angry, weak, and out of touch.

You are important can help fix that.

It tells the students what they want to hear. It is what they really believe about themselves. And if all of them are equally important to the teacher, then whether active or passive in class, what the student does matters to the teacher. The teacher is paying attention.

The teacher knows I’m capable of great things. She wants us all to succeed. She wants to see us do great things. This class, English, school, and life have meaning. If she gets angry, it’s because she cares about our future, not because we are making her look bad or making her job more difficult.

What do you do?

She might also take some more advice in Carnegie’s book. A world famous magician once told him that other magicians, before going out on stage, would say things like, “Well, there is a bunch of suckers out there, a bunch of hicks; I’ll fool them all right.” But, the magician said something else. Every time, before going out on stage, he said to himself:

“I love my audience.”

How about, “I love my students”?

You are important and I love my students reminds the teacher that the class isn’t about her, it’s about her students. Finishing the material before the tests come up isn’t the goal. Getting from A to B in the curriculum isn’t the goal. Serving the needs of the system isn’t her goal.

Helping turn weak students into strong, free adults is her goal. The Very Important business of English is secondary to teaching them how to live and learn.

What is the best way to live and learn?

Well, follow where your attention and energy lead you. Learning English, or Japanese, or anything, needs to be interesting to you. Don’t torture yourself like others have tortured you. You can work harder and longer and get better results when you enjoy what you do.

Because, you see, hard work doesn’t always have to feel hard.

The Lucifer Principle

The Lucifer Principle

The Lucifer Principle is one of the most important and powerful books on world history, war, human nature, and progress. In it, author Howard Bloom details how nature creates complex lifeforms from the competition between less complex ones. To Mother Nature, it’s a numbers game. Each gene, each replicator, is expendable. If a gene must die to serve the purposes of creating a more complex lifeform, so be it. It’s That Bloody Bitch’s way. Like genes, humans want to reproduce. To gain reproduction rights, typically men have had to fight each other for them. Out of fights come winners and losers, creating a hierarchy. Hierarchies exist not only between small groups of individuals, but between nations. Why? Because memes–ideas–bind very large and often diverse groups of people together into superorganisms. Those superorganisms also fit into a hierarchy. Memes appear to have a will of their own. They, like genes, want to spread. They do so through the often brutal competition between nations. To justify our brutality, our memes tell us that what we’re doing is just, that we’re fighting the bad guys. The horrible reality is that battles are not fight between good and evil, but between good and good, two sides that believe that they are honestly the good guys. And tragically, it appears that the often detestable, bloody battles for dominance in hierarchies between superorganisms, bound together and egged on by our memes, seems to actually create good results for those that are alive to see them. Blood and acts of evil are the price of progress. That is the Lucifer Principle.

The Lucifer Principle and Sapiens

The Lucifer Principle, like Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, is a history book with an agenda. Bloom believes that humanity is progressing. As proof, he says that there are far more humans living peacefully now than they could have ever lived under less complex societies, such as African tribes. Simple societies are brutal, savage, and small. We are much better off in our complex modern societies. Our comfort, however, came at the cost of someone else’s life and comfort. Harari, like Bloom, believes that humanity appears better off due to empire building. After all, citizens within large empires are free to travel and participate in larger societies (although those societies often put restrictions on the level of participation). Empires appear to unify diverse groups of people much larger than simple societies can. Harari believes, however, that people aren’t actually happier thanks to our supposed progress. We simply have a lot more dissatisfied and unhappy people. Bloom says no. We, the ones united behind the meme of pluristic Democracy, have something good, but we are in danger of losing it. Throughout history, empires have fallen because they underestimated the power and ambition of barbarians. Who are the barbarians preparing to knock us from the top of the international hierarchy? Bloom says it is the superorganisms that are united behind two memes: Communism and Islam. (Bloom published this book in 1995!)

Control

While The Lucifer Principle is largely a book about superorganisms and memes, Bloom also has some things to say about individual behavior. He talks about how control over our circumstances, or even just the appearance of control, can improve our mental and physical well-being. He gives the example of two laboratory rats. Both are in cages with electrified floors. One rat has a switch to turn it off (in both cages), the other rat doesn’t. The rat with the switch stays mentally well, because it has the ability to turn off the electricity. On the other hand, the rat without the switch ends up shriveling up in the corner of his cage, accepting that he has not control over his life of torture. Even when the cage is opened, the rat doesn’t try to flee. It is numb to the pain, but also numb to the opportunity of escape. For humans, it’s important to have control, too. Spirituality is often a means to feeling like we have control over invisible forces. Ancient tribes would sacrifice humans to quiet the wrath of the gods. Catholics paid money to the Church to have their sins wiped clean. Often the gatekeepers between us and higher powers are the most well paid and respected groups in our societies because they give us a feeling of control. The illusion of control that they give is part of the reason why doctors have such high status. A lack of control can also contribute to feelings of frustration, which turn to anger and violence. That’s why it’s important that everyone feel like they have some non-violent control over their future.

The secret to eliminating stress? Ambition.

Unfortunately, the sources of “stress” have been misunderstood and taught in our schools. To avoid giving children stressful environments, schools don’t ask students to be ambitious. In fact, ambition is taught to be the source of stress. Overworked students, they say, are stressed out. In fact, the source of stress is not overwork, but lack of ambition and striving for excellence. Humans that aren’t useful to the superorganism of society, like all cells within a larger lifeform, will shrivel up and die if they don’t serve the superorganism. “Excessive relaxation”, writes Bloom, “is a slow form of suicide.” Furthermore, our perceived position in the hierarchy contributes to stress. Bloom writes:
Position in the pecking order makes an additional contribution to many of the symptoms we blame on stress. With our dream of eliminating competition, we try to wish the pecking order away. But the fact is that we will continue to live in pecking order structures whether we like it or not.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.311). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.
Perhaps you think you can avoid the rat race by simply opting out. Bloom says, however, that the brutal truth is that our position in the hierarchy of the superorganism will only weaken if we opt out. If we want to rid ourselves of stress, the answer isn’t to opt out, he says, but to be ambitious, take control of our lives, and strive to be useful to the superorganism.

War and Evil

Yet, isn’t ambition also a source of war? Ambitious people striving to be useful to the superorganism seek to conquer their superorganism’s competitors and move them up the hierarchy.
We have found no method for shaking the consequences of our biological curse, our animal brain’s addiction to violence. We cannot free ourselves from our nature as cells in a superorganismic beast constantly driven to pecking order tournaments with its neighbors. We have found no technique for evading the fact that those competitions are all too often deadly.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.318). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.
In other words, what we call “evil” appears to be a part of our biology. How do we avoid war while also, as individuals and parts of a superorganism, strive to rise in the hierarchy and be useful to each other? Is peace achievable or a pipe dream? It is possible, Bloom says, but in order to do that, we need to aspire to something big. He writes,
We need a new horizon, a new sense of purpose, a new set of goals, a new frontier to move once again with might and majesty, with a sense of zest that makes life worth living, through the world in which we live.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.320). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.
We need to find a way to cooperate and compete in non-violent ways. The scientific process is a political one, but is non-violent. The geopolitical equivalent of science is pluristic democracy. That’s why it’s worth protecting from the barbarians until we can figure out how to eliminate war. Bloom says that we have one great task ahead of us:
We’ve found ways to halt illnesses, we’ve invented means to leapfrog continents in hours, and someday we will find a way to stop war—but only if we survive long enough. Until then our task is to outlast our own impulses. Our task is to outwit the Lucifer Principle.   Bloom, Howard. The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (p.320). Grove Atlantic. Kindle.

More from Howard Bloom

 

Rising to the Occasion

Rising to the Occasion

It’s mid September. My plan is to quit working as an ALT at the end of March next year. Six months left.

However, there have been a couple of complications since I started preparing to quit. For one, the studio that my wife and I built got flooded during a recent storm. While most valuables in the house were left undamaged, the studio itself stinks badly of mold. There are a lot of places in the studio for mold to hide. The flood was a rather large setback for us. I wanted to have English lessons in there, but unless we can fix the smell, having lessons in there won’t be practical.

On top of that, I have personal compatibility issues with the mother-in-law, so my wife and I have decided to move out into an apartment. That means we’ll be saving less money than we are now.

Those challenges have prompted me to reevaluate my plans.

My feeling was that if I could replace about 25% of my current salary with part-time, personal work, then it would be feasible for me to quit. But given these new circumstances, I feel like I need to raise that to 50%.

That’s a substantial amount of money. How can I possibly make that much?

The original plan I had was to have at least 5 lessons a week. That sounded like an achievable goal.

10 lessons a month? Now that’s a real challenge. 

How will I do it?

I have no idea.

It’s times like these that I am reminded of a scene from my favorite manga, Attack on Titan. During a pivotal point in the series, a small group of soldiers are sent to do something that had never been done before: Win a battle against the Titans. The fate of humanity rested on them.

The only way they could win and thereby save humanity was to use an experimental power they discovered. Unfortunately, almost as soon as the battle started, it looked like the experimental power failed. When they realized that, they sent a signal that the mission had failed. The mission failed almost as quickly as it begun.

When the commander of the army got the signal, his advisers asked him to order the troops to abort the mission and retreat. His response?

No.

“I won’t let them admit failure so easily. All that we can do while we are alive is struggle through this.”

The troops on the ground began to panic. Most of them wanted to retreat, but their commander ordered them to stay. They had to protect the people with the experimental power until they could escape.

In other words, they had to struggle against a seemingly invincible enemy, the weight of the future of humanity on their shoulders.

There are times in life when we don’t know what to do. In those times, all we can do is struggle through the fear and doubt. We can’t run away or accept failure. We have to fight.

That’s the burden we are given from the day we’re born until the day we die.

Time to rise to the occasion.

Playing with light

Playing with light

At the end of this month, my wife and I will be taking family photos at an outdoor event at a nearby park. We did the same event a couple of years ago. While my wife took pictures, her friends ran a booth selling handmade goods. I took pictures of the event and my wife while she was working. I wanted to promote the event and my wife’s work.

This year, my wife wants me to help take pictures. We’re going to split the work. It’ll be the first time that I work for her taking photos. She originally envisioned me running a mini-studio experience. As a result, I’ve been thinking about I can run such an operation by myself.

The main obstacle to running the experience outdoors is going to be the weather. Cloudy weather and sunny weather require different lighting setups. Additionally, any heavy wind will also hinder efforts to use things like diffusers or paper backgrounds.

Well, since we have some time to prepare, I’ve been looking at potential setups online. I found a couple I liked, so I took my wife to the park to try them out.

As it turns out, the weather cooperated quite nicely. We had one cloudy day and one sunny day, perfect for testing out both situations.

The setups we tested used only two flashes, diffusion, and a reflector. For cloudy days, no diffusion is needed.

We found one setup that works really well: sitting down in the grass. It’ll work well in both sunny and cloudy conditions, and even if it’s windy, the diffusion is light and plenty of weight can be placed at the base of the stand. On sunny days, as the sun moves, the setup can be easily and quickly turned to adjust. If it’s cloudy, no change is necessary. It’s a stable, easy-to-manage build out for a photo shoot.

Later, we tested out using a tent for building a mini-studio setup, but our tent is too small to use for family photos, so we scrapped that idea.

So, the sitting, two-light setup is the one I am going to use.

 

Reflecting on Summer Vacation

Reflecting on Summer Vacation

Well, summer vacation is over. That means it’s a good time to reflect on how I spent my time during these last few weeks.

The first three weeks, my wife and I spent in the US. We went last year, too, but we mainly focused on visiting places and taking pictures. This time around, we wanted to do something other than just photography.

Of course, we still took lots of pictures.

 

 

Some of the most fun we had was in the first few days. We sent to a place called the Nisqually Wildlife Reserve. At the reserve, we expected to just walk around a see a bit of nature. What we got to see was beyond out expectations. After walking for about 15 minutes, I spotted my first frog. Little did I know that, once we paid attention, there were frogs practically everywhere! That lead into a fun couple of hours of walking and photographing frogs, turtles, deer, and other wildlife. I’ve been to a few zoos in my time, but that reserve was better than most I’ve been to.

The only other place that we got to see interesting wildlife was at Mount Rainier.

 

 

There are several different trails starting from the Paradise visitor center. I’ve been up the more popular trails several times in my life, so I decided to take us on a less popular one. The trail lead past a small waterfall. Most people went to the fall and then return back to one of the main trails. Instead, we continued on the trail and enjoyed unusual and blissful peace and quiet. At the same time, we had a chance to see the two Marmots, someone large rodents that enjoy munching on the wildflowers in the fields.

Of course, as I said, it wasn’t all photo taking. Near where my parents live, there is a small, slow moving river that is a popular summer inner-tubing spot.

 

 

We don’t have very many photos from our fun times then. Unfortunately, we forgot our Olympus Tough, a waterproof camera, back in Japan. We had to make due with a smartphone sealed in a plastic bag.

Originally, we planned on going to a locally famous water park for a day, but when we found out how expensive it was, we decided to buy some inner tubes and enjoy unlimited rides and relaxation on the river for about half the price.

Another activity we enjoyed was taking a small class on night sky photography in Seattle. The class was conducted at an amazing camera store called Glazer’s. After the class, while everybody was downstairs looking at cameras behind glass counters, we spent a while just checking out all of the lighting, stand, printers, and other less popular photography items.

 

 

In Japan, I like to go to a store named Yodobashi Camera to look at camera stuff. While Yodobashi’s camera-testing experience is better than Glazer’s, nearly everything else about Glazer’s is better. I was surprised to find such an interesting camera store in the US.

The last activity we did before coming back to Japan was shooting guns at a shooting range. A family friend arranged for us to take some shooting instruction for a day. We expected to take a short lesson, shoot for an hour or two, and then go home. Instead, we spent about four or five hours shooting. It was a fun, American experience that my family enjoyed.

 

The main event for us, however, was the wedding reception my parents prepared. Friends and family traveled to meet and congratulate my wife and I on getting married. There was lots of food and good conversation for us.

 

My parents used to do a lot of large gatherings like those in the past, but they rarely get the opportunity these days. I was happy to see that they both haven’t lost their touch.

After all the fun was over, we packed up the souvenirs and said goodbye.

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