“she never knew a detour she wouldn’t take”

Saturday, March 4:  The last eight weeks have been a whirlwind.  Between teaching two intensive ESL courses at Virginia International University (VIU) and at the same time going through a rigorous application process for an EFL job in Japan, I’ve hardly had a moment to breathe.  I also had a Skype interview with the English Language Fellow Program, after which I was accepted into the applicant pool.  On top of that, I faithfully attended a writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks (although I didn’t get much writing done).

At the beginning of this year, I didn’t have any job prospects and had a year of great possibility stretching out before me. I had ambitious plans to: write my memoir; take writing workshops; get my novel published; look into starting a business organizing creative travel retreats; travel to Croatia, Budapest and Prague; and walk the Camino de Santiago.

Then, my plans were waylaid.  Out of the blue, VIU called me in for an interview, despite the fact I had applied in August of 2016, only to be rejected by them at that time. I accepted the job and committed to their short 7-week session.  Every time I teach as an adjunct in the USA, I become determined not to do it again because of the amount of work vs. the low pay, coupled with no travel opportunities. Teaching at VIU was great, as far as the students and my colleagues, but the amount of work I spent outside of class was ridiculous.  A couple of weeks into the job, I applied for a job in Japan.

Now it seems I’m embarking on a major detour.

This morning, my husband made me laugh so hard I was almost in tears.  He said, speaking in third person as if I weren’t right there with him, “my wife – she never knew a detour she wouldn’t take!”

He knows me all too well.

The simple truth is this: I don’t know when to stop.

This aspect of my personality cannot be denied, and it permeates every part of my life.  For example, during the recruitment process with Japan, the recruiter interviewed me on Skype on a Wednesday in mid-February for 1 1/2 hours.  I thought that would be the end of it, but at the end of the interview, he said he thought I might be a good fit for a particular program.  In order to be considered for it, I needed to prepare two 45-minute lesson plans as soon as possible.  Those were dreaded words, because, perfectionist that I am, I knew that I would spend hours and hours on those two lesson plans.  By gosh, I already had tons of work to do in my classes at VIU.

At the end of the Skype interview, I said to the recruiter, “Could you please let me know if I will no longer be considered for the job before the weekend?  Because I already know I will spend hours on these lesson plans and I’d rather not prepare them if you’ve already decided against me.”

He said, “No, sorry, it’s impossible to let you know that before this weekend.”

This meant that I had to complete the plans on the upcoming weekend.  In the end, I spent literally 6 hours preparing two 45-minute lesson plans!

Call me crazy?  Sure, if you like. It’s probably true.

The same thing happened when it came time to prepare the final exams for my two classes.  Several teachers gave me old exams to use, but as I studied them, I realized I hadn’t taught certain things that were on their exams, and their exams didn’t cover certain things I had emphasized.  Thus I spent the entire last weekend in February recreating the final exams for both classes.

On Monday morning, I went into my Reading & Writing class and said to my students, “I’m exhausted!  I just spent all weekend making up your final exam.”

One of my Nigerian students who has quite a sense of humor got a panicked look on his face.  He dramatically put his face into this hands and said, “Oh no, teacher!  If it took you all weekend to prepare the exam, it will take us four hours to take it!”  Everyone in the class burst out laughing.

The exam went almost as he predicted.  It was way too ambitious.  Though the class is only 2 hours and 20 minutes long, meaning the exam should have taken no longer than that, some students were taking the exam for a full 3 hours.

Ouch!  I felt so bad for my poor students.  Stoic as always, they soldiered through and did pretty well anyway.  I had to be a little lenient in grading some of the more time-consuming aspects of the exam, but we managed to survive unscathed.

How do you stop a person who doesn’t know when to stop?

When I got the job offer to teach in Japan, at a university somewhere in Kanagawa Prefecture (the exact location has yet to be revealed), I had to acknowledge that I read the 29-page handbook that tells about the 9-hour workdays, possible 30-90 minute commutes on crowded trains, the high expectations, the dress code (including the requirement of wearing pantyhose – ugh!), and numerous stringent rules and regulations about working in Japan.  After signing the contract and reading the handbook, I said to Mike, “What am I getting myself into?”

Mike says, and I’m sure his prediction will be right, that when I get to Japan, I’ll be saying “Oh my gosh!  What have I gotten myself into?”

I had to send a professional photo to their specifications.  Here’s the best I could do!

me in
me in “professional attire”

My husband continued with his “roast” of me this morning.  “My wife is the only person I know who puts 20 things on a to-do list each day and doesn’t even consider the possibility that it will take 40 hours to do the things on the list.  And then when the day is over, rather than congratulating herself on the 5 things she did accomplish, she berates herself for the 15 things she didn’t do.”

Oh dear.  He’s a funny guy. He’s going to miss making fun of me during the four months (one semester) I’ll be in Japan.

He might also miss me during 10 month period beginning in September, IF I get the English Language Fellowship, which is still looming out there until early summer.  They can offer me a fellowship anytime from now until June for a 10-month position anywhere in the world for the 2017-2018 academic year.  Of course, there is no guarantee I’ll be offered the fellowship.

In which case, I can still either go to Croatia, Budapest and Prague, OR I can do the Camino de Santiago. 🙂

My husband thinks I’m the busiest person he’s ever known, bursting with energy at 5:30 a.m. on the weekend mornings, antsy to get up and get going with my day. Much to his dismay.

I finished up my classes at VIU on Thursday, March 2, and submitted my grades on Friday, so my time at VIU is over.  I now have to complete a 7-10 hour eLearning course in preparation for Japan.  I also need to get my Japanese visa, read as many books as I can about Japan, buy a new Kindle to load a bunch of books onto, get a new work wardrobe and a bunch of pantyhose (ugh again), buy a new computer, go to a couple of doctor appointments, and, on top of that, show up for jury duty this coming Wednesday.  I’ve already bought my plane tickets for Japan, leaving Monday, March 27 and returning on August 8, one week after my contract ends on August 1.  I can’t stay longer than that, sadly, just in case I get that fellowship.

I don’t know why I’m made up the way I am.  But Mike is right when he says I never knew a detour I wouldn’t take.  I would add a caveat: I’ll take the detour as long as it offers me some of the things I love.  When an opportunity to travel, or to live and work abroad, falls into my lap, how can I possibly resist?

28 thoughts on ““she never knew a detour she wouldn’t take”

  1. I’m one of those people, too, who doesn’t know when to stop or say NO! But I’m not sure this is going to change until I’m too feeble to do anything but go, go, go. Best wishes to you on your pursuit of work in Japan. It’s a wonderful country, based only upon a short visit — but I’d relish the opportunity to do what you’re hoping to do! Rusha Sams

    1. It’s so nice to meet a kindred spirit, Rusha! I think I’ll be the same — never changing until I become too feeble, or until I simply keel over. Thanks about the Japan job; I have already been offered the job, accepted and bought my plane tickets, so I’m now committed. The journey begins. 🙂

  2. I’m feeling breathless just reading this. I hope you enjoy your time away. I’ve only been to Tokyo but I loved it. I wouldn’t love the pantyhose though. Can you wear trousers some times to avoid the pantyhose situation? I’m excited about reading new posts once you’re settled in.

    1. I’m very excited about this new adventure, Carol. I’ve been missing my travels, so this 4-month experience will be just enough to satisfy my wanderlust, I think. I haven’t been to Tokyo, only Kyoto, but I look forward to exploring as much as I can, although I won’t have much time because of my long workdays and no holidays. I did add a week on to the end of my contract so I can explore some. The pantyhose thing is really a pain, especially in summer. I will probably be wearing trousers most of the time, but I’m told I need to wear knee-high stockings or socks even when wearing trousers. Here in the US, I would go bare-legged or wear sandals with trousers.

      I’ll be posting on my old Kyoto blog: https://catbirdinkyoto.wordpress.com/ but I guess I’ll need to change the name to catbird in japan. 🙂

  3. Wow! What a read! I laughed about the pantyhose!! I guess when I was living there everyone was still wearing them so I never thought how odd that seems now. I am sure pants will be acceptable but no bare feet in class, so stock up on the knee-highs as well. Oh how I envy you this journey! I took it all for granted when I went, with no preparation, a name of a friend of a friend of a friend, and $1500 in borrowed funds. NO job, Nothing but a place to sleep the first night. And it all turned out fine. You will see that the four months will fly by! You will be there for cherry blossom season, which will make your photographer’s soul explode!!!!

    For some reason though I do not see you returning after the four month semester is over…. not sure why, but for someone like you, four months anywhere is simply not enough time!! Your husband is right, your lists are endless for all the things you want to do, and I agree with Mike that you never give yourself credit for all the millions of things you DO get done!! You worry about those you did not get done, and the next day, you go after them with the same fervor and gusto! All the while adding new ideas, projects, and places.

    If anyone is going to get to the end of that list, it is you! But be prepared for Japan to add a million new things! Kanagawa prefecture is home to Yokohama, the glorious, countless Hakone hot spring spas, the huge Kamakura Buddha, … so much!!!

    I am so excited for you and so happy for you!!!!!!!! And so glad the teaching and marking here is behind you so you can devote yourself to all the amazing adventures that lie ahead!!!!


    A place to start!


    1. Now that I’m finished with my classes at VIU, I can really start preparing for the experience of Japan. Thanks for sending the link on Kanagawa. I can’t wait to check it out.

      The pantyhose thing is really a pain, as I’ll be there through summer; I won’t return until August 8. I will probably be wearing trousers and knee-highs most of the time because I hate how constraining pantyhose are. Wow, you were adventurous to go there on borrowed funds without a job lined up. But it sounded like you had a marvelous experience there. I’m really excited about the adventure.

      I can’t wait to see Yokohama, to experience the Hakone spring spas (!!!) and the huge Kamakura Buddha, which I didn’t know about. What fun lies ahead… along with a lot of work. However, I’ve never had a teaching job that didn’t involve a lot of work, so I guess I’m used to it. Even though I didn’t have to be in the office 9 hours a day at VIU, I certainly put in that many hours or more at home!

      We’ll have to chat soon. I’m around today if you have time to chat. Let me know! Have a happy weekend! 🙂

      I already have my round trip ticket, so I know the dates. I know you think I won’t want to come back, but I will just in case I get the fellowship; I don’t want to miss that opportunity if I get it. I haven’t heard anything yet on that front though, although they tell me I could be offered one as late as early summer.

      1. Just saw this now, we can chat this weekend!!! It did not seem such an adventure in 1989 when I went to Japan. I got a “message” on day, December 10, 1998 at 4.10 pm actually, “informing” me that I would be going to Japan, in the same way I got a message telling me to quit my UN job and go to Africa. And look how that turned out!

        Japan was not an adventure for me at all since I hated it and felt I had to go to pay off my student loans, nothing more. But so many things happened there, meeting my ex-husband was a very strange and surreal experience which was meant to be though it turned out so bad later on. I am not sure now how adventurous I would feel with my parents at the age they are now, I would feel way too guilty. The cats also make it clear there is no way I am going anywhere as well.

        You can buy knee highs there, but getting pants and shoes and stockings to fit never mind underwear was a problem back then but with online purchases so prevalent now you don’t have to pack too much other than your basic wardrobe plus there are so many more foreigners there now and shops that specialize in US goods and products.

        I did not ask you how your kids feel about this trip. They seem pretty much involved in their own lives and concerns, your son in Richmond and Sarah – her writing is surely going to take her far. Has your son reconciled his situation with leaving university? I am sorry I always get the boys’ names mixed up. How about Hawaii son? Have you heard from him? He seems to have landed on his feet in in paradise, I hope he can maintain the life he wants and pay off his debts. It is the best feeling to not have any credit cards or credit card debt, that is for sure. I have a travel credit card which I use for online shopping which I have to load with funds from my bank account so no going over any limits. Many things which can be paid in installments with a normal card require full payment up front or forget it. That is also a healthy way to make sure you save for what you want. Too baad I did not learn this lesson until my 50s. I was very reckless also with credit cards which made my life hell for more than 25 years. I just did not learn how to handle money until now and I am still not doing as well as I should be. But at least my jobs seems secure for another year I hope. My boss is kind of strange though as he gets mad now when I call him at home during the day to ask a question since I never see him anymore.

        No other news here, the cold is getting too much after a very warm February and now March is our polar votex. I am watching tons of good programmes on my Android TV box, it is like having 100 different Netflix subscriptions for free from all over the world. With no commercials except for the live streaming ABC, NBC, CBS and news channels. No Canadian channels though, so I have to watch the news on line on my computer. Pretty lame compared to what you are planning and concerned with!!! Hahaha!

        Well, that’s all for now, just catching up on the blogs and posts, time to watch the end of season This is Us, really a great show. Are you watching it?

        OK that’s all for now!! Take care and talk soon!!!!


    1. Thanks so much, Jude! I’m so excited, and also nervous about the work expectations. I plan to spend a lot of time in the next three weeks reading as much as I can about Japan. I’ve been only to Kyoto, so the area around Tokyo, in Kanagawa Prefecture (Yokohama is the capital), will all be new to me. I’m hoping to at least learn a few Japanese phrases before I go. I’ll be writing about it on my old Kyoto blog: https://catbirdinkyoto.wordpress.com/ but I guess I need to change the name. 🙂

      1. I really admire you, I wouldn’t have the confidence to even apply for these jobs. And I am sure you will make a success of it. Mike seems to have you sussed out very well 😀

      2. Thanks so much for your kind words, Jude. I guess the application was a bit borne out of desperation, in an effort to get away from the horrible political environment we have now in the USA. Yes, Mike definitely has me well pegged. He’s very patient to put up with me. 🙂

  4. I don’t know you, but this description is exactly what I’ve come to see as your essence – an enthusiastic woman who takes big, bigger and biggest bites of life, then runs on to the next thing. Your husband’s witticisms are perfect.
    Congrats on the job. So many of us would never have attempted it, or considered it, even if we were qualified. For me, the pantyhose bit totally kills it! 😉 I hope you get time to visit some beautiful temples, because I know you’ll love that and we’ll reap the benefits of your photos. Wow, three weeks away! Enjoy.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Lynn. Yes, my husband definitely can call it like he sees it, and he’s usually right on target. 🙂 The pantyhose almost did kill it, believe me! Oh well, I’ve endured worse things for longer than 4 months, so I guess I’ll survive it. You know I’ll be trying to visit all the temples and gardens I can find, and hopefully I’ll take a lot of pictures. 🙂 Thanks!

    1. I have no idea, Annette, where I get energy from. I honestly don’t feel very energetic and wonder how I’ll survive long commutes and 9-hour work days. In the end, if I can’t hack it, I can always come home, although I don’t imagine I will. I also look forward to unplugging from what’s happening in the US at the moment, although with North Korea lobbing missiles at Japan, I could be in for worse. 🙂

      1. Four hours and 41 minutes, according to MapQuest. Sigh. Oh well. There are dangers everywhere. I can’t let fear rule my life. But at least I can remove myself from the anger and frustration I feel daily being here. I can’t even look at my fellow Americans without wondering who is guilty for putting our current leader in charge.

  5. Haven’t you just got the most tolerant husband in the world, Cathy? He certainly never has time to get tired of you before you go flitting off so he can miss you all over again! 🙂 🙂 Seriously though, you are amazing and I’m so proud of you! I don’t know anyone with more get up and go. I asked when you start over on mine earlier today so you can just ignore that. CONGRATULATIONS!

  6. Congrats on landing a job in Japan! I spent two years in Japan in the early 90’s – never a dull moment – beautiful scenery, kind people, timid students, and endless culture to be discovered and enjoyed…… I am looking forward to following your adventures in Japan.

    1. Thanks so much, Lori! I’m sure it will be quite the adventure. I appreciate the encouragement. I’m also sure you’re right about the timid students; I encountered similar students in China. 🙂

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