the january cocktail hour – boy, do i ever need a drink!

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?

Some of you may remember my ambitious plans for 2017: here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

Well.  Let’s just say, at least for now, my plans have been slightly waylaid.

downtown Harper's Ferry
downtown Harper’s Ferry

“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.

the town of Harper's Ferry
the town of Harper’s Ferry

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.

The Terrace Garage - Harper's Ferry
The Terrace Garage – Harper’s Ferry

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.

Wax Museum and Scoops
Wax Museum and Scoops

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 La Land, as it gave me a welcome escape from the dark times our country is facing since January 20.

view above St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
view above St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

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.

The Small Arsenal - remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper's Ferry
The Small Arsenal – remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper’s Ferry
tree along the Potomac River
tree along the Potomac River

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.

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

I hope you’ll share what’s been going on with you.  As always, I wish wonderful things for all of you. 🙂

Advertisements

here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

“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.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Perelman Building
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Perelman Building

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.

Urban hiking in Philadelphia
Urban hiking in Philadelphia

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.

a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia
a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

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.

I guess pedestrians go that way....
I guess pedestrians go that way….

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.

following the glowing path
following the glowing path

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.

Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner
Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner

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.

urban hike through Philly
urban hike through Philly

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

enticing shop window
enticing shop window

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. 🙂

a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly
a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly

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.

diagonal walkways
diagonal walkways

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

urban hike in Philly
urban hike in Philly

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.

urban hiking in Philly
urban hiking in Philly

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.

still decked out for the holidays
still decked out for the holidays

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).

Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments
Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments

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.

The Church of St. Luke & The Ephiphany
The Church of St. Luke & The Epiphany

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.

Philadelphia urban hike
Philadelphia urban hike

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. 🙂

southside Philly
Southside Philly

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! 🙂

facade in Philadelphia
facade in Philadelphia

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)

the first half of twenty-fourteen: can a person really change?

Monday, June 30: At the beginning of every year, I’m always hopeful and enthusiastic about the chance to change myself, to become a better person, a more caring person, a more successful person.  I make goals for myself. I want to succeed, I really do.  But I wonder if I can ever really change.  Can I change my true nature or am I doomed to continue to fall back into my old habits, into the person I really am deep inside?

I resolved to be FOCUSED this year.  Granted, the year isn’t over yet, but as of the halfway point, I’ll recap where I am.  Not very focused, I admit.

One of the things I didn’t make a resolution about was my photography.  However, I had some nice things happen with my photography this year.  First, I joined the Vienna Photographic Society.  This is a group of hobbyists, most of whom are excellent photographers. I was inspired to push myself to excel, but ultimately, I realize I don’t have the technical expertise to be in their league.  I’m not even sure I want to have that much technical expertise. Neither do I have Photoshop, nor do I do much in the way of post-processing.  I understand now that many professional photographers do extensive post-processing. Maybe one day I’ll get into this, but at this point I don’t have the drive to attain such a level of accomplishment.

Each month the club has novice and advanced intra-club competitions in general photography and in themed contests using trained and experienced local photographers as judges.  I’m always in the novice category.

In my first competition, I won third place in the novice category for this picture.

Blue boats in Pokhara
Blue boats in Pokhara

In another competition, I won first place in the novice category for this picture “Our Soul is a Spray Can,” taken in Cascais, Portugal.  At the end of the year, when the club gave awards to everyone who entered competitions during the year, I also won Honorable Mention for this picture.

My Soul is a Spray Can
Our Soul is a Spray Can

In a PSA (Photographic Society of America) National competition for Nature, Round 2, I got 10 points for this picture of Acacia Trees in Lake Langano, Ethiopia. This meant it went on to the next round of judging, but I ultimately didn’t win anything.

Acacia trees at Lake Langano
Acacia trees at Lake Langano

One of the things I enjoyed doing was a 20-minute presentation to the club on Oman.  I put together a slide show about Oman and told stories about my life there.  I got a lot of compliments on this presentation and I loved doing it. 🙂

One of over 80 photos I showed in a 20 minute presentation on Oman
One of over 80 photos I showed in a 20 minute presentation on Oman

I also joined Instagram and have been posting a lot of my pictures on there.  At one point I started tagging my photos #natgeotravelpics.  This hashtag put my photos into National Geographic Travel magazine’s Instagram feed.  One week, they featured this photo and it got well over 20,000 likes and I got a lot of new followers on Instagram. It was a lot of fun for a couple of days.

Hot air balloons in Cappadocia
Hot air balloons in Cappadocia

Finally, I entered a photo competition at the Vienna Community Center, which was open to the public.  I won third prize in Architecture for this photo of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque

It’s clear where I focused most of my energies!  Below are the goals I set on January 1, 2014.  As you can see, I seemed to FOCUS more on my photography than on the goals I actually set for myself. 🙂

1.  Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.

This is one goal I haven’t taken any steps toward achieving.  I started with an idea for the Washington Post Travel Section about a crazy trip I took from the chaotic spiritual city of Varanasi to the chill yoga capital of India, Rishikesh.  The story, already written in my blog, was about 12,000 words.  The Washington Post Travel Section seemed the perfect place for this story because they often publish personal experience stories. However, they do not take unsolicited pitches.  You can send a full story and they’ll decide if they like it and are interested in buying it.  But the word count on their stories must be from 1,500 to 2,500 words.  Mine required a LOT of cutting.  Besides, they generally don’t want to look at a story over a year old, and my story was from 2011.  I thought they might consider a story if it was  timeless, as mine was, so I worked on it for a while, cutting and cutting, until I got down to 5,000 words.  Still way too long.  Then I just abandoned it, slowly at first, as I continued to mull it over, and then all at once, as I dropped it altogether.  That was the only article I even attempted to write.

Why am I so easily waylaid?

Probably because I’m not sure I really want to be a travel writer.  I’m not interested in having to work on my holidays!  I want to enjoy, soak up the culture and the sights.  I want to enjoy the food and wine and the experience.  Travel writing is a job.  I’m not sure I want to make a job out of something I love doing for its own sake.

2.  Finish revising my novel by the end of February.  Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps.  Begin a new book after I get that process underway.

I didn’t quite make my February deadline.  I did however finish my novel in May. Finally!  A dear friend of mine read it and gave me some great feedback.  I even came up with a title, The Scattering Dreams of Stars.  So most of the work is done.

The next step is to send out query letters to agents.  I wrote numerous drafts of a query letter and I posted a draft on a forum where fellow writers critique query letters.  Mine got ripped to shreds.  After many efforts to capture the essence of my story in a short two paragraphs, and to write a captivating hook, I let it sit.  And sit.  And sit some more. I have two friends who have offered to edit the letter, and I’ve made another attempt, but I’m still not happy with it.

I’ve decided it’s harder to write two paragraphs than to write a 350 page novel.  Some people say they write the hook and the summarizing paragraph before they write their novel.  Maybe I should have done that; it would have helped me to be more focused.

My goal is to finish that query letter and send it to agents in the next two months.  Oh dear.  Again, why am I so easily thrown off track, and sometimes by the simplest of setbacks?

As far as being a full-time writer, I now remember what I don’t enjoy about it.  During the last 6 months, while I took off the semester to write, I felt isolated and antsy.  It hit me that I function better with a schedule.  I need to get up in the morning and go to a job.  I need to interact with people.  I do better getting out and about, being around people, being accountable to someone.  I’m the kind of person who needs to squeeze in writing during the down times of a busy life.

3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).

Yes, it was as painful as I thought it would be.  I applied for 40 jobs in the U.S. and after getting no response from any of them, I started putting feelers out abroad.  Even though I matched job descriptions exactly, I didn’t even get an acknowledgement on most of my applications.

As it’s very time-consuming to apply for jobs these days, I got disheartened very quickly.  It used to be you could send a resume and a cover letter, but these days, applicants must often fill out online applications, completing every detail of your job history on each company’s website.  It’s so ridiculous.  What’s LinkedIn for, anyway? I think there should be one central place where you post your resume and you can download from that central place to a company’s website.  You go through this cumbersome process and then you never hear ANYTHING back!  It’s so frustrating.

Finally, I got sick of never getting any acknowledgement and spending so much time spinning my wheels for nothing.  I don’t know the reason I don’t get short-listed.  Some people have told me I’m overqualified.  Others have told me I’m not qualified enough.  Or I don’t match every single qualification.  I have transferable skills, but employers seem to want you to have worked in that particular job, and they seem to want you to have no ambition to move from that job.  Also, there are so many young people with Master’s degrees in International Relations coming from the big schools in the area: George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, Johns Hopkins.  Why would they hire an older person when they can hire a young person fresh out of college?

While I was in Oman, a woman contacted me through my Nizwa blog because she was considering working for the University of Nizwa. She ended up taking a job in China.  I wrote to ask about possible jobs at her university and she told me they had just instituted a mandatory retirement age of 60.  As I started looking at jobs in China, I saw many jobs with an age limit of 60. I figured since I only have one more year to work in China, I would focus my job search there.  I’ve always wanted to teach in China for a couple of reasons: 1) Asian students in general are hard-working and 2) there are a lot of amazing things to see in China.  I focused my job search there and in one week I had four interviews and I got three offers.  I accepted an offer to teach at SCIC (Sino-Canadian International Colleges), Guangxi University in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  It’s not far from Vietnam and about a 3 1/2 hour bus ride from Guilin, where the movie The Painted Veil was filmed.

In all, I applied for 70 jobs, beginning my job search when I returned from California at the end of January and ending on June 13, when I got the offer from GXU.  That was 21 weeks at over 3 jobs a week. I believe my days of trying to find a job in the U.S. are over.  It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Since I can’t get a job in my country, I’m thankful that someone will hire me from foreign lands.  Looks like I’m going to China!  Nǐ hǎo!!

4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)

I actually did this.  I’ve posted 52 posts in 26 weeks, about two a week. I have neglected my fellow bloggers though, and for this I feel bad. 😦

5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January.  Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!).  Take a road trip.  And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.

I haven’t been to any of these places.  However, I am planning a trip to New Hampshire this week. 🙂

6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.

I love to read, so this has been easy.  I’ve read 22 books, mostly books on writing and novels.

7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.

I’ve been really good about the walking, but not so good about the eating smaller quantities of food.  I managed to lose 6 pounds, but then I gained back 4, so I’m only two pounds down from where I started.  Here’s a chart of my weight, which seems a kind of metaphor for my life.  I always end up right back where I started from!

My weight as a metaphor for my life
My weight as a metaphor for my life

In a way, I feel relieved to be going abroad again.  Taking a job here in the U.S. probably wouldn’t have allowed me to travel.  Besides, starting a new job in a corporation or a non-profit at this point would mean starting with only 2-3 weeks of vacation per year.  Teaching abroad allows me to have both the cultural immersion I crave and to have extensive time off to travel in the region where I’m based.  Overall, it’s a great solution to all my problems.  As I only have about 9 more years to work before I retire, and I still have my health, I may as well take advantage of teaching abroad.  Besides, my kids are nowhere close to settling down, getting married or having kids; by the time they are, I should be back in the U.S., ready to settle down and enjoy the extended family.  And best of all, they’re supportive of me having my adventures while I’m still young enough to have them!

The other thing I miss about being abroad are the expats and foreigners one meets when thrown into a foreign country.  Everyone is an adventurer of some sort.  Being in the U.S., I’m tired of having people’s eyes glaze over when I share my experiences living abroad.  I love the fellow nomads that tend to gravitate to each other in foreign lands. In addition, you meet wonderful natives of the country where you are a guest.  Two of my closest friends in Korea, Julie and Kim, were Koreans.  And I miss dearly friends I’ve made abroad, friends the likes of which I don’t have here in America.  I miss Mario, Sandy, Tahira, Kathy, Anna, Mona Lisa, Seth & Anna, Myrna… and the list goes on.  We share a common experience no one else will ever understand.

RESOLVED 2014!!! FOCUS

Wednesday, January 1:  Happy New Year!!  It’s that time of year again, time to get on track with life!  I’m always enthusiastic about turning the calendar to an untarnished new year, and getting a fresh start on what I hope will be the life of my dreams.  However, I know it’s a challenge to keep myself disciplined.  Accomplishing my New Year’s Resolutions in past years has always been a mixed bag.  I achieve some of what I set out to do, and other things I don’t even touch.

“If you have the capacity to be more than one thing, do everything that’s inside of you.” ~ Bishop T. D. Jakes

This is the problem.  I want to do everything that’s inside of me.  And because of that, I actually never get anything done!

I am like the Cathy in the cartoon of the same name.  I’m the Cathy of a million brilliant possibilities.

I am pretty good at many things, but not great at any one thing.  I can write fairly well and I can do statistical or financial analysis.  I can figure out Excel spreadsheets or Word documents.  I can live abroad or at home.  I am filled with wanderlust and, alternately, with homebody tendencies.  I love solitude and intimate social gatherings.  I can help organize U.N. delegations to Middle East Peace Conferences (Annapolis 2007) or help organize events for the Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice 2008) or organize debates among students. I can teach adults or children; I can teach Koreans, Omanis, Saudis, Vietnamese, Americans or Mongolians.   I can do diligent research and draw overarching conclusions, or I can wander around dreamily through foreign lands.  I can exercise religiously or I can lazily sit around reading a good book for hours.  I can take pretty good pictures, but I’m too impatient to actually learn how to improve.  I can be incredibly organized, or I can be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants operator.  I can study a foreign language until I’m blue in the face, scoring well on written tests, but I can never gain any facility with the language.  I am an excellent student, always.  I have been a reporter, a banker, a stockbroker, an intern (State Department), an intern again (MSI), an English teacher and an ESL teacher.  And of course a mom.  Let’s not forget that.

I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in International Commerce & Policy.  I have ESL and Virginia teaching certificates.  I have written a novel from start to finish.  I have written short stories and poems and research papers and blogs.  I have worked as a cash control “banker” at Busch Gardens and as a bank teller, a loan officer and a credit analyst. I am pretty good with numbers and pretty good with words, but not great at either.  What does one do with such a broad sweep of mediocre abilities, and such a variety of interests?

Staying close to home this year.  There's plenty to explore in the Americas.
Staying close to home this year. There’s plenty to explore in the Americas.

The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.  It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean.  ~ Toni Morrison

I admit now to stealing a great idea.  I read about this idea on someone else’s blog.  This person, I can’t even remember who (sorry!), advised people to choose a word for the year.  After a great deal of thought, here’s what I’ve come up with:

FOCUS

“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.”  ~ Oprah Winfrey

When I met Annette of Beauty Along the Road in Monterey, Virginia this fall, she inspired me to give some serious thought about what I really want to do. Annette and I brainstormed many ideas and when I left her, a lot of possibilities were floating through my head.  At the time we met, I was feeling frustrated with my teaching job, and felt horribly depressed at the thought of continuing to teach.  The college-level students I was teaching were immature, disrespectful and entitled, and I frankly hated teaching them.  I believe I shouldn’t have to deal with classroom management issues in college-level classes; the classes I taught felt like teaching middle school, and if I wanted to teach middle school, I could go to work for Fairfax County Public Schools and make a lot more money.  Not that I want to do that, believe me.  Not only was the pay extremely low after being paid well working abroad, but the hours were longer and the job was more demanding, thus leaving little time to devote to what I really love.

If you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.  ~ Howard Thurman

What I love is writing.

Now of course I know that trying to become a published writer is a difficult road.  Most people have to have a day job to support their writing habit.  But I was inspired by Ann Patchett in her fabulous book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  She always knew she wanted to be a writer.  She built her whole life around that purpose, and looked for a job which would pay the bills but not impinge on her free time.  She knew teaching would drain her of her own creativity, so she became a waitress, and then a freelance writer for Seventeen.  That was how she paid her bills, until she made it big with her novel Bel Canto.

She has some words of wisdom for aspiring writers:  “Even if I don’t believe in writer’s block, I certainly believe in procrastination.  Writing can be frustrating and demoralizing, and so it’s only natural that we try to put if off.  But don’t give “putting it off” a magic label.  Writer’s block is out of our control, like a blocked kidney.  We are not responsible.  We are however, entirely responsible for procrastination and, in the best of all possible worlds, should also be responsible for being honest with ourselves about what’s really going on.”

I have to stop procrastinating (though I’ve never called it “writer’s block,” because I don’t believe in it either).

Besides my desire to write, I also have the desire to travel. The one good thing about teaching ESL, the only good thing, was that I was able to live abroad, and to travel extensively.  But am I willing to put up with one to have the other?  Maybe I have no choice, but I’d like to create another option.  Carol of The Eternal Traveller inspired me to try a Travel Writing Course from the Australian Writers’ Centre in November.  I completed it and now am armed with some knowledge about the process.  I know, I know, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I loved living and working abroad, but now, I can’t do that because of family matters.  So, I would like to use my hard-earned Master’s degree to find a job in international development.  At least I could feel like I was contributing to something I care about.  So if I need to work to pay the bills because I can’t make any money in writing, then I need to find a job I love, a job that has meaning to me, and a job that I don’t have to take home with me.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.  I want to know what you ache for, and if you dream of meeting your heart’s longing. ~ Oriah

With all that in mind, I’ve decided to take off from teaching next semester.  Yes, I’m quitting my job, at least for spring 2014.  That gives me 6 months to be FOCUSED.  Because if I don’t get something else going here, then I’m doomed to continue teaching.  That is NOT the option I want for myself.

Ultimately, I know I don’t have control over whether I get anything published or not, but I do know that I will certainly never get anything published if my work is sitting on my computer unseen by anyone else.  I also know that I will not get a new job unless I am applying for jobs.  I just can’t see strangers knocking at my door begging me to come to work for them.  I have to actively sell myself, sell my writing, sell my ideas: a very unpleasant business all around, and a terrifying one.

I went through this business of applying for jobs in 2008-2009, for nine grueling and demoralizing months.  I had just finished my Master’s and I thought I would easily get a job. After all, before I became a full-time mom for 15 years, I had never had trouble getting any job I wanted. However, after 250 job applications, I had 5 interviews and 1 internship, which lasted for 9 months at Management Systems International, until I got hired to teach English in Korea.  Believe me, I don’t relish the idea of doing this again.  But my alternative is to stay stuck in a job that pays nothing and goes nowhere and drains me of all my energy.  I have to do it again.  I have no choice.

In order to stay focused, I need to cut back on my blogging because, although I love blogging, it can be addictive and time-consuming.  I’m addicted to it because it gives me immediate gratification; I can see the stats and encouraging comments that push me to write more.  Blogging serves one purpose in that it gets me writing, taking photos, pushing the boundaries of my world by trying to see it in a different light.  It also gives me encouragement and helps me gain confidence, something I find hard to come by.  But. It isn’t contributing to my goal of getting articles, or my book, published.  And it certainly is not going to get me a job.

So, to keep things simple, here are my seven FOCUSED resolutions for 2014.

1.  Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.

Multitudes of travel publications.  Surely there's one that will take my work. :-)
Multitudes of travel publications. Surely there’s one that will take my work. 🙂

2.  Finish revising my novel by the end of February.  Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps.  Begin a new book after I get that process underway.

3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).

4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)

5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January.  Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!).  Take a road trip.  And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.

Staying close to home, with a possible (?) trip to Costa Rica... :-)
Staying close to home, with a possible (?) trip to Costa Rica… 🙂

6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.

7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.

walks near home
walks near home

At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable. ~ Christopher Reeve

“If you want to write, practice writing.  Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.” ~ Ann Patchett

“Forgiveness…it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.  Every time I set out to translate the book…that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper, … I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence.  Every.  Single.  Time. … I do believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.  Forgiveness, therefore, is key.  I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.”  ~ Ann Patchett in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

***********************

Ultimately, my dream is to combine writing and travel somehow, either by planning and offering writing retreats in far-flung parts of the globe, or by going abroad for several months at a time and writing like my life depended on it.  Writing retreats would combine my natural teaching ability, my wanderlust, and my writing dreams.  However, I feel the first step is to get published, so I can establish some credentials, and some credibility.  One step at time…..

Enhanced by Zemanta

RESOLVED 2013!!! ~ the year’s resolutions in review

Tuesday, December 31, 2013: At the beginning of this year, I made a lot of ambitious resolutions, as many of us do. I believe in making myself accountable, so, before making a new set of highly breakable resolutions for 2014, I’ll review how I did with accomplishing my 2013 resolutions.  To see my original post on January 1, check out: RESOLVED 2013!!!

Thirteen is usually my lucky number, so I hoped this would be a good year. Overall, it was a good year, but in some ways, it was a mixed bag. I am always foolishly optimistic that if I aim high, I at least will achieve SOMETHING!!  I’m sure you all have figured out what a Type A personality I am… sorry!  This I cannot escape…

“It was amazing how you could get so far from where you’d planned, and yet find it was exactly were you needed to be.”
Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

1) Finances:  PAY DOWN MY DEBTS substantially (…by 50%). Save $6,000 for trip this summer to Spain, Portugal (& Morocco?).  Don’t spend money on anything other than travel unless it’s absolutely essential!

I did this pretty much!  I actually paid down my debts by about 50%, but then once I got back to the USA, I went for a couple of months without a paycheck and had to spend more money on settling back in.  So I’d say a 40% reduction in debt.  And I did save the money for my month-long trip to Spain and Portugal. 

2) Health & Fitness: Exercise 4x/week!  Walk, do The Firm aerobics weight training video, or ride the exercise bike at the gym.  Bring healthy lunches to work.  DRINK WATER!!!  Keep track of my eating on myfitnesspal.  Lose 13 pounds and KEEP IT OFF!! (Current weight 66 kg/145 lb; goal: 60 kg/132 lb.) When I get back to the USA, ride my bike outdoors at least 2x/week.

FAILED miserably on all counts.  I went in the opposite direction and am now at 150 lbs. 😦 

3) Writing: FINISH AND PUBLISH MY NOVEL.  THIS IS MY NUMBER ONE PRIORITY FOR 2013!! (I finally read it in its entirety in November & December of  2012, and after 10 years of not looking at it, I couldn’t put it down!!  I was surprised that I actually wrote it… :-) )  Revise it, cutting out 150 pages and fixing all the problems.  Within the year, send it to an editor and then to publishers.  If no one will publish it, self-publish!! Once this is done, begin my next project.

I did manage to revise 37 of my 50 chapters, but I didn’t finish.  So of course I didn’t even try to get it published. 

Blogging: Continue to write my Oman blog until I leave Oman at the end of June. Commit to a 52 week blogging project: one contemplative photo with accompanying journal entry per week.  On this one day a week, I should do some spiritual type of walk, pilgrimage or meditation, journal about it and post an accompanying photo.  I’ll aim to do it on Fridays while in Oman and on Sundays once I return to the U.S.

I did this on most Fridays in Oman, but it dropped off once I returned to the USA.

Finish my Cairo blog (what I can remember from 5 1/2 years ago!).  Edit my Korea blog to show more and larger photos.  I have some beautiful photos from Korea, but the blog doesn’t showcase them well.

Did all of this!

Finally, I added something that wasn’t on my list.  I completed an online travel writing course with the Australian Writer’s Centre in November.  I hope to put what I learned to use in 2014.

4) Photography: Learn to use the manual settings on my camera and experiment with photos.  Get a photo editing program and play around with photos.  Take a photography class when I return to the USA in the fall.

Mixed bag.  Experimented some but not enough.  Didn’t take a photography class.  Didn’t try a new photo editing program. 

5) Language and Knowledge Goals: Try to read a bit of the Quran each night to gain an understanding of Islamic culture.  Study Arabic: Complete Level One of the Rosetta Stone Arabic.  Review Chapters 1-12 in Al-Kitab.  Study 1/2 hour 5 nights/week.  I’m serious.  Really.  (I didn’t do this all last year, and really, I’m not that motivated to do it this year, especially since I will be leaving the Arab world at the end of June. However, I’ll still keep it on the back burner as a goal I’d like to achieve.)

Didn’t do any of this!! 😦

6) Travel goals:  IF we get a semester break in January, go to either Sri Lanka, Kathmandu, Zanzibar, Morocco or Prague.  Go to Spain, Portugal & Morocco (a kind of Moorish adventure) this summer for 5 weeks.

Went to Nepal and Spain and Portugal.  Decided to drop Morocco off the list and go back another time.

In Oman: I only have 6 more months in Oman, so my goal is to see everything of significance that I haven’t seen. On the list are: Ar Rustaq, Ashkara Beach, Little Snake Canyon, the Oryx Sanctuary, Persian steps of Izki, the Damaniyat Islands (snorkeling), Sumail, Wadi Ghul and Al Khitaym, Safari Desert Camp in Wahiba Sands, Sinkhole Park (in Hawiyat Najm Park), Wadi Abreieen, Wadi Dayqah Dam, and Barr al Hickman beaches.  Visit the Chedi for a day at the pool.  I’d also like to see the Arabian horses in Adam.

Went to Ar Rustaq, drove by Ashkara Beach, went to Little Snake Canyon, tried in vain to find the Persian steps in Izki, hiked at Wadi Ghul, went to Sinkhole Park, Wadi Abreieen and Wadi Dayqah Dam.  Went to the Chedi for brunch.  Never did all the other things. 😦

In the region: Visit my new friends in Abu Dhabi.  Take a weekend trip to Al Ayn in UAE.  If we have a long weekend, visit the Islamic museum in Doha, Qatar.

Didn’t do any of this. 😦

Back in the USA: Take weekend trips around Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee.  Try to save for a trip to California to visit my sister and Jayne over the Christmas break.

Went to all these places except Tennessee and West Virginia.  Am going to California from January 2-13.

One thing I really want to do on my travels is to linger and be more observant.  I want my trips to be a kind of spiritual pilgrimage, where I am totally present to each moment.  I want to be aware, keep a journal rich in details and take time with photos, learning about and experimenting with the manual settings on my camera.

Didn’t really linger as long as I would have liked, though I did off and on.

7) Family goals: Have my husband Mike and my two sons, Alex (21) and Adam (20), come to visit me in Oman for 11 days. (They arrive January 1!)  Try to talk online more regularly with the boys and Sarah in the next 6 months.  When I return home, spend quality time with each of my family members individually and together as a family.

DONE!!

When I return home to the USA, spend time with my daughter Sarah (28) in Richmond.  If Mike is open to it, work on our marriage. Reconnect with my father, my sisters and my brother.

Spent time with Sarah.  Mike and I are working on getting used to each other and still trying to decide about the future of our marriage.  Reconnected with my father and my sister Joan, but haven’t still seen my brother in New Jersey or my sister in California (will see her January 2, 2014).

8) Social: Cultivate new friendships with great discernment. Cultivate at least one new friendship in Oman and one in Virginia. Make more of an effort to talk to my close friends regularly.  Invite someone somewhere once a month, either to come by for dinner or a movie, or to go on an outing. Reconnect with my old friends in northern Virginia and Washington.  Plan a get together with my old high school friends.  Attend the fall York High School gathering.

I cultivated a nice friendship with Tahira in Oman and of course spent time with Mario, Anna and Kathy, Mona Lisa and some time with other co-teachers.  Reconnected with my old friend Susan from my Richmond stockbroker days, and with Sarah, a Korean friend from my single days.  But honestly, I haven’t really cultivated friendships since I returned home to the USA.

Finally, DON’T attend a single social gathering unless my heart is really into it.  Forget about making an appearance unless I REALLY WANT to do so.  And, don’t let any person disturb my peace of mind with his/her criticisms, unsolicited advice or intimidating tactics!  I have fought hard for my independence and self-esteem over the last 5 years.  Guard them relentlessly.

DONE.

9) Cultural: Visit the museums in Oman that I haven’t seen.  Go to 1 show during the spring at the Royal Opera House.  Get involved in more InterNations activities.  Keep an eye out for other cultural activities.

Did some of this, but not others.

When I return to Washington, attend Jazz in the Sculpture Garden on Friday evenings.  Visit the museums and art galleries in Washington.  See good movies in American cinemas!! Find new places to listen to live music. Explore the rich variety of ethnic restaurants in Washington and northern Virginia:-)

Have done a lot of this, but never made it to Jazz in the Sculpture Garden.

10) Home sweet home: Move back home to Virginia, after my Moorish adventure, by early August.  Reacquaint myself.  Settle in.  Learn to see my old home with fresh eyes.

I’m working on this but it’s a challenge.  (See reverse culture shock: the elusive “american dream”)

11) Work:  Finish up my job with University of Nizwa by June 26.  Begin working at my new job in the fall semester.  Apply to teach at least one class in international relations (using my hard-earned Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy) as an adjunct, in addition to ESL classes.  Apply, once again, for a job at USAID or another AID organization.

Finished my job at UNIZWA and began at Northern Virginia Community College in the fall.  Applied at NOVA to teach international relations but never heard back.  Only applied for a small number of other jobs.  Need to work on this full force in 2014.

12) Eliminate at least one bad habit:  SPENDING MONEY on unnecessary things.  Yep.  I keep trying this one. I have high hopes on this for the coming year. :-)

I did really well at this in 2013, compared to how I’ve done in years past!  Still could get better though. 

13) Spirituality: Begin a meditation practice, starting with at least 10 minutes a day.  Read books about Buddhism, pilgrimage, spirituality, along with my other reading. Read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.   Start reading books about the Camino de Santiago and prepare to do some kind of pilgrimage in 2014.  Attend some services at Washington National Cathedral.

Mixed bag here.  I did a meditation practice early in the year, but as I prepared for my trip to Spain and Portugal and to return home, this fell by the wayside.  Began the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.  I won’t be able to do the pilgrimage in 2014, so I’ve put this aside.  Went to the Cathedral, but not for services.

14) LOVE: Open up my heart.  Invite LOVE to find me…♥♥♥♥♥♥  (Still remaining hopeful on this.)

Still remaining hopeful. 🙂

“I love stupid plans.”
Megan Whalen Turner, The Queen of Attolia