Monday, March 27: It’s 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning. My bags are packed and I’ll leave in about an hour for BWI airport. My journey to Japan is about to begin. 🙂
This is the fourth time I will have lived and worked abroad. I taught Omani and Chinese university students on my two most recent gigs; the first time, I taught Korean elementary students. I always leave home with excitement and some trepidation, mainly because I never know what the work environment will be like. Each of my experiences has been completely different from the others. I never worry about the travel, because each place offers limitless exploration potential. I’ve rarely been disappointed in my travels. I’ve enjoyed each country in which I’ve lived while at the same time struggling to deal with cultural differences. I think every person should live in another country at least once in his or her life; it’s an eye-opening experience to be a foreigner, a minority, in another land. It gives one an understanding of what immigrants to our country must go through when they embark to the strange world that is America.
I don’t know why, but for this flight they recommend we get to the airport 2 1/2 hours ahead of flight time, which is 7:59 a.m. That seems awfully early to me, but who am I to question these crazy rules?
I made a day trip to Richmond on Monday, March 20, to visit my two kids. Before meeting them, I went for a walk around one of my favorite gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I got a glimpse of spring here in Virginia, but now I’ll have to leave it behind. I’ll be immersed in Japan for full-on spring and through the heat of the summer. Tokyo’s weather is much like ours – cool and rainy in the spring, hot and humid in summer. It will be similar to Korea’s weather as well.
Inside the conservatory, I found orchids and tropical plants.
Outside, I found a Japanese tea house and garden, a children’s garden and tree house, and a pond.
I hope to see you all in Japan! You can follow my adventures here: catbird in japan.
Friday, January 13: On a beautiful Friday in January, just before I was to begin teaching a 7-week session at VIU, I decided to drive to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia for a morning outing. Before this job dropped into my lap, I had made a schedule for myself that included taking a photo outing every Friday. Despite getting the job at the last-minute and having to prepare two syllabuses and lesson plans, I went out anyway, determined that I wouldn’t allow this job to ruin my personal goals. In the end, the outing caused me a great deal of stress over the weekend. It turned out I would never have time for another Friday outing during the entire 7-week session.
I was glad I went even though it took me longer to drive there than the 1 hr 9 min estimated by MapQuest.
At the Visitor’s Center, I was told there was a 2 1/2 mile hike to the river bluff or a shuttle into the town of Harpers Ferry, where I could get some lunch. I only had time for one or the other, and I was hungry, so I opted for the town. The town is supposedly closed off to cars, so I was required to take the shuttle despite having my car. Later, as I walked through the town, I saw cars driving through, so it was obviously NOT “closed off to cars!”
I was dropped by the shuttle on Shenandoah Street, from which I could see St. Peter’s Catholic Church on the hill overlooking the town.
I walked down the quiet street, looking at the preserved shops from the 1800s.
At the end of Shenandoah Street, I got a glimpse of the John Brown Museum. I didn’t go inside because I didn’t want to take that much time.
The story is this: In October 1859, determined to arm enslaved people and spark rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory and several other strategic points. The raid failed, with most men killed or captured. Brown’s trial and execution focused attention on the issue of slavery and propelled the nation toward civil war. (National Park Service pamphlet)
I walked up High Street, which has shops and restaurants. As it was lunchtime and I was hungry, I searched for a place to grab a bite.
I stopped by the train station to watch some of the trains barrel past.
I ducked into Hannah’s New Orleans Seafood & Southern BBQ for some lunch. It was bright and cheery, and the Bubba Gump Louisiana shrimp fried in Cajun cornmeal was delicious. 🙂
After lunch, I walked back down High Street.
I took the path up to Jefferson Rock. First I came face-to-face with St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Irish laborers flooded into the Harpers Ferry area during the 1830s to build the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad. St. Peter’s Catholic Church symbolizes America’s melting pot tradition and the customs, habits, and religion of the early Irish immigrants.
During the Civil War, to protect the church from Union and Confederate shells, Father Costello flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutrality. St. Peter’s escaped the war relatively unscathed. The church was remodeled in 1896 and Mass is offered here every Sunday.
Further up the path, I found the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of Harpers Ferry’s five earliest churches. Built in 1852 with money provided by church fairs, St. John’s served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War and suffered considerable damage. It was rebuilt afterward, but was abandoned in 1895 when a new Episcopal church was built in the upper town.
Above the ruins sat a pretty house with a grand view.
This is how Thomas Jefferson described the view from Jefferson Rock during a visit to Harpers Ferry in 1783:
“On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac [Potomac], in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea … This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
Around 1860, the U.S. armory superintendent ordered red sandstone supports places under “Jefferson Rock” because it was “endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.”
Going back down the hill, I passed the ruins again.
At this juncture of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, George Washington envisioned military strength and chose Harpers Ferry as the site for a U.S. Armory. By the early 1800s, the rivers powered the armory complex and commercial mills. The revolutionary method of manufacturing with interchangeable parts was perfected at the Halls Island rifle factory.
Below is Arsenal Square and the John Brown Museum.
I followed part of the Appalachian Trail from the end of Shenandoah Street across the footbridge to the C&O Canal and Maryland Heights.
There is a lot of train activity at this juncture of the rivers.
Rail transportation in the United States began in Baltimore, Maryland on July 4, 1828, when Charles Carroll, the only living signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
On the same day, President John Quincy Adams turned the first spade of earth along the Potomac River for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
The race was underway as the progressive railroad and the traditional canal struggled to become the first to connect the Ohio Valley with the east coast. Harpers Ferry was one of the first milestones of that race.
Work on the railroad and canal progressed slowly at first, but by 1834 both companies had completed construction to a point opposite Harpers Ferry. The canal had won the race to this point, and it continued up the Maryland side to the Potomac.
The B&O Railroad, plagued by land disputes with the canal, crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry in 1837 and rapidly pushed on. By 1842, it reached Cumberland, Maryland, and a decade later, the railroad was open to Wheeling on the Ohio River.
Business boomed at Harpers Ferry with the arrival of the railroad. Refrigerated cars brought oysters and other luxuries to the town. Thousands of travelers visited Harpers Ferry as it became a gateway to the Ohio Valley.
The Civil War shattered Harpers Ferry’s prosperity. Much of the town was destroyed, and Confederate raiders constantly sabotaged the railroad. Despite the war, the railroad escaped permanent damage, and the B&O survives today as a main artery of transportation in the United States.
On the other side of the footbridge, I saw the path along the C&O Canal, but I didn’t have time to explore it further.
The C&O Canal was burdened by a lack of building supplies and a scarcity of skilled labor and thus encountered serious financial problems. It did not reach Cumberland, Maryland until 1850 — eight years after the railroad reached that point. Plans to continue further westward were abandoned.
Made obsolete by the faster and less expensive railroad, the C&O Canal never attained any great measure of economic success, but it did transport coal, flour, grain, and lumber to Washington for nearly 90 years. Canal operations ceased in 1924 when a flood devastated the Potomac Valley, leaving the canal in ruins.
Today’s view of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers passing through the water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains has changed little from Meriwether Lewis’ view in 1803. Lewis hoped to find a similar, accessible trade route on rivers passing through the Rocky Mountains.
The first mode of travel consisted of a primitive ferry established in 1733 by Peter Stephens. Stephens sold his business to Robert Harper in 1747, and Harper and others carried settlers and supplied across the waters until 1824 when a bridge constructed across the Potomac made ferryboat operations unnecessary.
In less than a decade after the bridge was completed, the iron horse and the mule brought the transportation revolution to Harpers Ferry.
In 1848, the building now known as John Brown Fort was built as a fire-engine house for the U.S. Armory. On October 16, 1859, it served as a stronghold for John Brown and his raiders, as they were penned into the building by the local militia. U.S. Marines stormed the building at dawn on October 18th and captured Brown. Convicted of murder, treason, and inciting slaves to rebellion, he was hanged in nearby Charles Town on December 2, 1859.
The Fort escaped destruction during the Civil War, but from 1861-1865, it was vandalized by souvenir-hunting Union and Confederate soldier and later travelers. In 1891, it was dismantled and transported to the Chicago Exposition, and in 1895, it was rescued from conversion to a stable and brought back to Harpers Ferry to be exhibited on a farm. Then in 1909, it was purchased by Storer College and moved to campus. Finally, in 1968, it was moved by the National Park Service to within 150 feet of its original location.
After my fun excursion, it was sadly time to return home and get to work on preparing for my classes. I could have explored a lot more. Sadly, it would have to wait for another day.
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!
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?
Welcome to our January happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I don’t know about you, but January has been a rough month, so I really need a drink (or two or three!). Today I’m serving up a new concoction I discovered at Lolita in Philadelphia: a jalapeno-cucumber margarita. I’m not a big fan of sweet drinks, so this is perfect and refreshing. Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer. I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage. Cheers!
I’m happy to see you. We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking. How are you surviving since the election? Have you taken a stand in politics or are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to shake out? How are your resolutions coming along? What kind of music are you listening to? Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement? Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home? Have you had any special family gatherings?
Well. Let’s just say, at least for now, my plans have been slightly waylaid.
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” ~ Allen Saunders
The day after I signed up for three writing classes at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and one class through Fairfax County Adult Ed on starting a new business, I got a call from Virginia International University, a small private university not far from my house, to have a phone interview. This was a shock as I had applied and been rejected for a job with them last August. The phone interview was followed by a request to do a 20-minute teaching demo, which I also did. They hired me as an adjunct to teach two intensive ESL classes, Mon-Thur (9:00-2:40). I didn’t have much time to prepare as the classes started on Monday, January 16, on Martin Luther King Day, so I was pretty stressed out.
When I teach, though I only have 20 contact hours/week, I end up working almost double that amount. So, now and for the duration of the 7-week session, my time is not my own. Not only do I have to prepare for and mark papers for two classes, but I also am taking one writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks, and I have two more one-day classes I’ve signed up for, one this Thursday and one on a Saturday in March. The writing teacher gives us writing assignments; we’re supposed to submit a piece for work-shopping every Saturday. On Thursday night, I finished the two-night entrepreneurship course. In the last class, a speaker discussed franchising for most of the class, which I have no interest in! It was mostly a waste of time and money.
Luckily the semesters are very short at 7 weeks, and I only have five more to go. Also, as I’m an adjunct, VIU can either offer me a position next session or not, and I can choose to teach classes or not. After seeing how much of my time is consumed, I’ve decided to either teach only one class, or none at all, in the next session. It’s hardly worth it when I divide what I make per contact hour over the hours I actually work, plus take taxes off the top. I’d rather focus on my personal goals.
That being said, the students are enjoyable. I do love being in the classroom and interacting with my students, but I don’t enjoy the time I have to spend outside class hours to prepare. As I am often a perfectionist, I can let the preparations get out of hand, and I never seem to know when to stop.
On top of this, I applied back in December for The English Language Fellow Program, which sends experienced U.S. TESOL professionals on paid teaching assignments at universities and other academic institutions around the world. It was quite an extensive application process; I had to write numerous essays about various aspects of teaching. They don’t even look at an application until all references are turned in, and I knew my Chinese reference would hold me up. Finally, in early January, after much prodding from a friend on the ground in China, my former supervisors submitted their references and I was contacted to have a Skype interview, which I did. The next day, I was informed that I’m now in the applicant pool and will be considered for programs worldwide. Though there is no guarantee that I’ll get a fellowship, at least I’m happy I made it into the pool. This would be for the 2017-2018 academic year.
So, this is why you haven’t seen much of me in the blogosphere. My classes end March 2, so I should have more time after that.
As for other random stuff in January, I’ve been to see three movies: Hidden Figures, Julieta, and La La Land. I enjoyed them all, but I especially loved Hidden Figures because I grew up in southern Virginia near Langley during the early years of the NASA space program, and the fathers of many of my friends worked at NASA. I also enjoyed the light-hearted romance and music in La LaLand, as it gave me a welcome escape from the dark times our country is facing since January 20.
By the way, I made up a January playlist on Spotify that you might enjoy. I call it: of true detectives and highway vagabonds:
“Far From Any Road” – From the HBO Series True Detective / Soundtrack
“Highway Vagabond” – Miranda Lambert – the weight of these wings
“The Angry River” – True Detective (From the HBO Series)
“Inside Out” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
“Do You” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
“You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
“Hold On” – Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
“Gocce di memoria” – Giorgia – Spirito Libero
“Somebody’s Love” – Passenger – Somebody’s Love
“What I Am” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars
“Love of the Loveless” – Eels – Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1
“Tighten Up” – The Black Keys – Brothers
“City of Stars – Ryan Gosling – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – Emma Stone – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
I haven’t had time for much else of interest, but I did go on Friday, January 13 to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for a bit of an outing. It was before my first week of teaching and I was determined to do an outing each week on Friday (since I’m off); I’ve been trying hard not to let the job run me! However, the following Friday was the inauguration and I didn’t want to go out in the traffic (and I certainly had no desire to attend the inauguration) and last Friday (the 27th), I had a mandatory teacher meeting (which I don’t get paid for, by the way). So, it seems the job is running me after all. The pictures scattered through this post are from Harper’s Ferry; I’ll write a blog post about it later.
bridge remains at Harper’s Ferry
walkway along the railroad tracks
I finished reading several books this month. My favorite was Nabokov’s Lolita, which is shocking by way of subject matter, but wonderful in terms of prose. I listened to the audio book, and I felt thrilled with so many of Nabokov’s passages, just for his amazing use of language, that I had to go out and buy the book so I could reread many of the passages I listened to. I plan to write about this in a separate post. I also enjoyed City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris. It takes place in Saudi Arabia and is a murder story, not my usual cup of tea, but I love it because it portrays the nuances of Saudi culture. I also listened to the audiobook Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves, which I enjoyed because she traveled to places like Egypt and Yemen, echoing some of my own travels. And everyone knows from my recent posts about visiting museums, that I also enjoyed the small book: How to Visit a Museum, by David Finn.
As for the aftermath of our election, I don’t want to ruin our cocktail hour, so I’ll write a separate post about it. All I can say is I’m extremely proud of all the women who marched in the Women’s March on January 21, and I’m proud of the protestors at airports and at the White House who are protesting the Muslim Ban. You can count me as part of the Resistance!! We will NOT stand down.
I hope you’ll share what’s been going on with you. As always, I wish wonderful things for all of you. 🙂
As my maiden name was Cathy Birdsong, I have often used the name “catbird” on my blogs. I was in New England a couple of years ago when I came upon this aptly named studio – one I’m sadly not at all associated with. If only I had such a studio!
Last year in Chincoteague, I came upon this sign that carries part of my youngest son’s name.
My oldest son’s girlfriend is named Ariana. I found her namesake restaurant in Philadelphia – a restaurant featuring Afghanistan cuisine. Sadly, we didn’t try it out. And we could have had 20% off with a movie ticket!
Unrelated to any of my family, I found this boat in a Maryland marina a couple of summers ago, an ode to Miss Betty. Berthed beside Miss Betty is The Other Woman.
And at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, MD, I found the gravestone of Elijah Jefferson Bond, creator of the Ouija Board. 🙂
Elijah Jefferson Bond – Creator of the Ouija Board
“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
– C.S. Lewis
Twenty-seventeen. I like the sound of it. Three-hundred-sixty-five days, each offering possibilities. Or at least invitations to take small steps here and there.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” ~ Gretchen Rubin
I’m a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions, or, better yet, Intentions. I always have been, although my success at achieving them is about as good as anyone else’s. Still. I love to dream. If the day ever comes when I stop dreaming, I might as well call it quits.
I have a long list of resolutions that cover a wide array of categories: education, health & fitness, finances, household projects, spiritual & cultural growth. I use the same categories every year, written in a large bound periwinkle-colored book full of blank pages. At the beginning of each new year, I write: Cathy’s 2017 Resolutions (or whatever year it is) and then I tape a copy of 2017 Yearly Horoscope: Scorpio (which rarely holds any truth in its predictions). At the end of each year, I evaluate what I did and didn’t do (no rewards or punishments necessary), clip together the pages of the old year, and close it out. It’s my method, and I enjoy the process. I love the bulk of those years of resolutions, some met and some not. My periwinkle book of wishes and dreams.
It has taken me a long time in life to figure out what’s most important to me, but now that I know what lights my fire, my intention for twenty-seventeen is to focus on the things I love, to expand on them and to delve deeper, to let the full expression of them bloom.
These are the things that set my heart on fire: inspirational and creative travel, writing & blogging, photography, walking (urban and nature hiking) and reading. I’ve also been toying with the idea of entrepreneurship as opposed to career-seeking in a world that seems infused with age discrimination.
Because I’m interested in so many things and I have so many ideas, because there are so many choices, I often feel overwhelmed; in fact, I feel utterly swamped. When I read this passage from Robert Clark’s Love Among the Ruins (p. 162-3), I recognized myself in Jane:
Jane, “having resigned herself to the fact that a Ph.D. was not in the cards … for a personality, a character formation, that, truth to be told, has felt itself ‘swamped’ since perhaps the age of four — no, longer still, since before she seemingly alone rowed herself ashore and landed in this life.
“It is, Jane must admit, a curious thing to be so overwhelmed by obligations and duties — to have unfinished chores hugging at her hem while lined up behind them is the impending sense that some fundamental necessity has been completely overlooked — but also to experience moments of terribly clarity in which she sees that she is not busy, that in fact she is doing nothing. And that ‘nothing’ is perhaps the substance which swamps her, the flood that threatens to sink her altogether. For it is not merely nothing in the sense of a moment of inactivity, of respite or pause. Nor is it the nothing of ‘nothing in particular,’ neither this nor that. It is, Jane sees when she looks up to see it hovering just above and in front of her, her thumb holding a place in a magazine article whose subject she has already forgotten, the index finger of the other hand clawing in the near-spent cigarette pack, ‘nothing at all.’ It is the kind of nothing that is a force in its own right, that precludes all the possible somethings one might try to put in its place; that marks the fact of everything one is not doing and, looming stupidly, heavily like humidity, renders starting impossible.”
How I love it when I read a book of literary fiction (which I read to the near exclusion of anything else) and recognize myself.
The nothing that I’m doing, that nothing that has a life of its own, is so physically oppressive that starting something, anything, becomes a force to be reckoned with. How does one start something when “all the possible somethings” remind me every moment of what I’m NOT doing? I often feel smothered by all those possibilities, and rendered inactive.
Yet. I do continue to search. To seek. A good friend of mine once admitted to admiring me for always searching. For what, he didn’t know. Neither do I. But I do believe it is important to keep searching, even if you don’t know what for.
In the excellent memoir-writing book, Writing Life Stories, teacher Bill Roorbach asks one of his 85-year-old students, coincidentally named Jane:
“Jane, tell us, what’s the secret of life?”
Jane smiled benignly, forgiving me my sardonic nature, tilted her head, and said without the slightest pause: “Searching.”
An indignant Chuck (one of the other students) said, “Not finding?”
“No, no, no,” Jane said emphatically, letting her beatific smile spread, “Searching.”
Searching is what keeps us alive, gives us hope, keeps us moving along, step by step, through our lives.
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” ~ Vincent van Gogh
In the areas of life that excite me, here are my intentions for the year ahead:
Reading: I intend to bask in my love of reading, using Goodreads extensively, adding to my to-read list and writing reviews of every book I read. My goal is to read 40 books in different areas: literary fiction, memoir, poetry, short stories and travel memoir; books on the craft of memoir, travel and fiction writing: and inspirational books on creativity. Last year, my goals was to read 35 books and I achieved that goal. I was enriched by every page I read. 🙂
Photography: I intend to read books on photography, push myself to play more with my camera, possibly take a photography workshop, and challenge myself to be more creative. I will try to participate in several photo challenges on WordPress. I would also like to get and learn a new photo processing software.
Walking (urban and nature hiking): I intend to continue my 3-mile walks 4x/week, but also to take local urban hikes through cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, and Richmond and natural hikes in the Shenandoah mountains or elsewhere on the East Coast. I also hope to do three official 10K walks this year. Of course, I walk a lot whenever I travel abroad because I believe it is the best way to fully experience any destination. I also have a dream of walking the Camino de Santiago in the fall, possibly September-October. If I do it, I want to do the whole thing, The French Way, all 780 km of it. I hope I can swing it this year.
As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. ~ Buddha
Inspirational and creative travel: I intend to travel more intentionally this year, and to make something creative from my travels. My plan for this spring is to try to volunteer at a bed & breakfast in Croatia for a week, travel solo in Croatia, and then meet Mike, where we will explore Hungary and Czech Republic, focusing on Budapest and Prague. In the fall, I hope to be able to walk the Camino de Santiago.
Writing & blogging: I’d like to stop being lazy in my travel writing and blogging and to push myself to be more creative and inspirational. I intend to travel more intentionally and observantly, keeping a detailed travel journal and taking more creative photos. I hope to make something from my travels, whether the stuff of memoir or fiction, poetry or storytelling photography.
As for my fiction and memoir writing, I’d like to self-publish my novel and finish my memoir by year-end. In addition, I plan to take classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I’ve already signed up for three classes: How to Build Complex Characters, Building Better Characters, and Character Building. I know, they all sound alike, don’t they? However, they each have a slightly different focus and are taught by different teachers. I’m interested in this subject because I want to create characters to take with me to Croatia and on my other travels. I’m also interested in creating a course on how to create characters and bringing that character to …..(fill in the blank with a foreign country name).
Entrepreneurship/Career: Finally, there is the issue of work. I’ve been reading a book by Gail Sheehy called Sex and the Seasoned Woman. I started this book years ago, but I finally finished it this year. What I found most interesting were the stories of older women who decided to reinvent their lives and bring their passions into fruition. I found a story about Elaine, who started out as a schoolteacher, to be funny and inspirational (p. 232-235):
Elaine’s husband asked her: “What are you passionate about?”
“Books,” she said. “This may be a really dumb idea, but I’ve always wanted to be a bookseller.” Now she is the proprietor of a large bookstore in California. Later, her husband asked her again if there were anything she was missing in life.
“Teaching,” she admitted. “This may be a really dumb idea, but what if we started a conference for travel writers?” Now their bookstore has expanded into a small university of sorts.
Elaine says “But these things didn’t start as smart business ideas.” They started with Elaine saying to her husband, “This is probably a dumb idea, but….”
So, THIS is probably a dumb idea, but I hope to start a new blog where I don my teaching hat and write posts about how to immerse oneself more creatively and intentionally in travel, how to approach travel with awe and with an eye to inspiring creativity in oneself.
I’m hoping that eventually this will lead to me offering creative travel retreats. Slowly, slowly. As a teacher, writer, and traveler, I know I am perfectly capable of doing this. Yet. And of course, there is always a YET! I’ve never been an entrepreneur before, so I know I will have a steep learning curve. I intend to climb that curve, even if it involves backsliding down that slope as I learn. I will need confidence and courage.
In that vein, I’ve written a lot of notes about defining my business and my market, signed up for a course called Starting Your Own Business, and have subscribed to Entrepreneur magazine. Now I need to come up with a name!
I will reveal more about my ideas for this business on a new blog at some point soon, I hope. I have lots of ideas. 🙂
As for my ESL career, I will cut back on my job applications, but I will periodically apply to jobs abroad or at home. My heart isn’t really in the work itself, except for the travel opportunities offered. If I get a job, it may waylay my aforementioned plans, but I’m open to any adventure the world throws my way! 🙂
I hope everyone continues to dream and grow in twenty-seventeen, and I hope all your wishes come true. 🙂
(All photos were taken on urban hikes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 29-30, 2016)
In twenty-sixteen, I: Gazed in WONDER at the Renwick. Traipsed around the City of Brotherly Love, ate Philly cheese steaks, and admired the Mural Arts decorating the city’s walls and parking lots. Inspected the crack in the Liberty Bell and imagined our forefathers in Independence Hall. Toasted to Mike’s 62nd birthday. Worried about our youngest son’s lack of direction. Partially de-cluttered our house, using The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (the Kon-Mari method), successfully weeding out clothing, accessories, kitchen appliances and books.
Janet Echelman – 1.8
Jennifer Angus – In the Midnight Garden
Central tower of City Hall
Street mural outside of our hotel
Eastern State Penitentiary
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Flew to Dallas, Texas and then drove to Oklahoma City to attend a friend’s second wedding. Walked on the grassy knoll and along the route where JFK was assassinated. Stood beside larger-than-life statues of George W. Bush and his dad at the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum. Walked among tulips and sat with Benjamin Franklin at the Dallas Arboretum. Stood under a rearing horse and saw a fake rodeo at the Cowboy Museum. Grieved near a field of empty chairs for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Fighting the Global War on Terror at the George Bush Presidential Library & Museum
the route heading to the triple underpass
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
urban sculptures in Oklahoma City
The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial
The Red River Rodeo at the Cowboy Museum
Stood by as contractors demolished our deck, laundry room and kitchen and then slowly built them again, in much nicer form.
Kitchen – BEFORE (this wall will become a knee wall)
Kitchen – BEFORE
Kitchen – BEFORE
Deck – BEFORE
Future screened-in porch
new kitchen and island
kitchen near door to screened porch looking into family room
our screened-in porch furniture
Attended my first husband’s book talk in April at Politics and Prose in D.C., where he discussed his newly published book, Mathews Men. Celebrated our daughter Sarah’s graduation, with a B.A. in English, from Virginia Commonwealth University in May. Enjoyed a spread of bagels at Sarah’s house, and later dinner and dirty martinis at Lucy’s, with both families in attendance. 🙂
Me, Adam, Sarah, Alex, Barb, Mike, Kema, Bill, Cody and Nicholas
the parents with their graduate: Mike, me, Sarah, Bill and Kema
Wandered through tulips and sunflowers at Burnside Gardens in Virginia. Visited four gardens around Philadelphia for my second trip to that city this year. Imbibed in Cabernets and Pinot Grigios at several Virginia wineries. Let our son’s lease in Richmond expire and watched with trepidation to see what he’d do next; fretted because we didn’t know where he would go or what he’d do. Felt relieved when we found he took off for a Tribal Design retreat in Vancouver and finally went Hawaii, where he is now leading tours for a hostel in Maui.
Asian garden at Glen Burnie
me at an Asian gate
the ruins at Chanticleer
flowers in the pond garden
all in white
Topiary Garden Longwood
Orangery at Longwood
Quarry Garden at Winterthur
Zephaniah Vineyard’s tasting room
Drove around the Ring Road in Iceland over a breathtaking 11 days (in search of a thousand cafés). Climbed around, behind, and to the tops of waterfalls. Admired sweeping vistas from our Polo VW rental. Hiked to the edge of ashy glaciers. Poked around inside turf-roofed houses. Ate cod, cod and more cod, as well as langoustine, lamb and gas-station hot dogs. Drove over 2700 km and walked 166,100 steps, or 70.4 miles. Returned home with walking pneumonia, from which it took three weeks to recover.
Siglufjörður on the edge of a fjord and a mountain in North Iceland
Standing on the edge of Godafoss
Waterfalls tumbling off the edge of the mountain north of Seyðisfjörður, in East Iceland
Glaciers at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South Iceland
The Sun Voyager in Reykjavik
Laughed at the “Kurios” of Cirque de Soleil. Had a family reunion at our renovated house for my dad’s 86th birthday in September, where everyone except Adam attended. Enjoyed sushi and sake with my sister Stephanie, who came from California. Drove along the Skyline Drive amidst flame-colored leaves to West Virginia in early November to celebrate my 61st birthday and our 28th anniversary. Enjoyed delicious pizza and craft beer at Pies & Pints. Strolled through the eerie ghost towns of Thurmond and Nuttallburg. Hiked along the Endless Wall.
a dramatic scene on Skyline Drive
a tree amidst flames on Skyline Drive
The New River Gorge Bridge
The Historic Morris Harvey House
The Mankin-Cox Building
Thurmond Passenger Depot
Street art in Fayetteville
Parting shot of the Glade Creek Grist Mill
Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex
The Endless Wall
The Endless Wall
Barely survived our contentious election and felt heartbroken over the results. Boycotted Facebook for a month and a half. Realized I have nothing in common with 62 million Americans.
Read/listened to 35 books/audiobooks (meeting my Goodreads goal!), my favorites being All the Light We Cannot See, State of Wonder, Circling the Sun, The Ambassador’s Wife, and The Glass Castle. Saw 39 movies in the theater, especially loving Joy, Eye in the Sky, A Hologram for the King, The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Music of Strangers, Dheepan, Hell or High Water, The Light Between Oceans, Sully, Girl on the Train, A Man Called Ove, Manchester by the Sea, and Lion. Dined on Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, French, Japanese and Italian food.
Weighed 5 pounds more at year-end than at the end of 2015, despite continual attempts to lose weight. Took Pilates and dropped out because of utter boredom. Walked nearly 251 hours during 276 @3-mile workouts, or about 813 miles of dedicated workouts.
Passed the Virginia Real Estate Licensing Exam but never signed with a broker. Sent my novel to 23 agents to no avail. Applied for 32 jobs, 23 abroad and 9 stateside. Came up empty-handed on the book publishing and the job front. Got discouraged. Completed a Memoir class and wrote seven chapters of a memoir. Dreamed about how my future might look.
Celebrated Thanksgiving with Alex and Sarah, and Christmas with only Alex (Adam was in Hawaii through the holidays, jumping off waterfalls, body surfing and leading tours). Felt dismayed at our shrinking family gatherings.
Returned to Philadelphia (third time’s a charm!) to see “Paint the Revolution” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admired the Gates of Hell and Crouching Woman at the Rodin Museum. Wandered through the Magic Gardens of mirrors and mosaics and found objects. Walked and walked through the outdoor gallery of Mural Arts to shake 2016 out of our psyches. Drove home through Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, amidst the clip-clop of horse-drawn buggies and faded laundry flapping on clotheslines.
“Garden of Delight” by artist David Guinn
Farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Cleared our heads in preparation for 2017, when we are hoping for love, peace, healing, direction, confidence, boldness and endless adventure. 🙂