~ the art of meandering around the world in a leisurely manner, lingering in a place & discovering, layer by layer, its unique character – its essence – while, at the same time, discovering one’s inner self ~
It is traveling intentionally and with awareness, and then distilling the experience into creative expression.
In this blog, I seek to mingle travel and art. I hope to inspire curious explorers of the world to make an art of wandering, and then turn that wandering into art. My focus is on people in later life, usually 50+ folks who have time and money to travel and want to explore their creative selves in the process.
~ what I hope to do here ~
This blog will cover all my travels going forward, and may consolidate the high points of some of my earlier travels. I hope to include posts about:
travel imaginings – what inspires our destination choices;
immersion in a destination BEFORE embarking on a journey;
the intentional experience of a destination – by walking, bicycling or driving AND observing; sampling and writing about local food; keeping a journal; taking photographs; sketching or painting; writing poems, travel essays or short stories; creating collages; or expressing creative urges in otherwise meaningful ways;
creative expression, through blogging or other means, about a destination upon return.
I plan to offer challenges to my readers: poetry challenges, photography challenges, writing (fiction and non-fiction) challenges, and other artistic challenges. The challenges will vary according to my whim. I’ll encourage fellow wanderers to set intentions before each trip – intentions to notice something new, to define what’s iconic about a place, to describe a place using the five senses, to try a new activity or local food, to write a poem or a prosaic stream of consciousness – to create something, anything that ignites your soul.
I’ve only posted one piece (plus several pages) on it so far, but more will come shortly. I hope you’ll follow me there. As for my set of 16 blogs (yes, it’s been a little crazy and just a bit cumbersome!), all of them will remain online but are now closed books.
The only other blog I’ll continue to post on is this one: nomad, interrupted. Here, I’ll continue to post monthly cocktail hours and maybe some local outings. I may include bits of Americana. But everything about travel will now be consolidated on my new blog.
Thursday, November 30: It’s time for our monthly cocktail hour again, but this time I’m afraid I can’t offer you any cocktails. It will have to be a non-alcoholic gathering, as our family has now come face-to-face, in the most unpleasant way, with the full-blown realization that we have an alcoholic in our midst. I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now, please come in and keep me company. I could certainly use a listener, and I’d love the distraction of hearing what’s happening in other people’s lives.
I can offer you soda, hot tea or coffee, or even hot apple cider, since it’s getting cold now. We also have tap water, of course, with a twist of lemon or lime, or I can offer you La Croix grapefruit flavored sparkling water. You all know I love my glass of wine, but I have to save that treat for when I’m outside the house.
“There’s not alcoholic in the world who wants to be told what to do. Alcoholics are sometimes described as egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. Or, to be cruder, a piece of shit that the universe revolves around.”
― Anthony Kiedis, Scar Tissue
I hope November has been good to you. Have you read any good books, seen any good movies or performances, binge-watched any television series? Have you encountered any challenges or jumped any big hurdles? Have you welcomed any visitors? Have you wandered or journeyed; have you dreamed any dreams? Have you had any massages? Gone to any exotic restaurants, cooked any new dishes? Have you embarked on any new endeavors?
Our month started out well enough. My son’s girlfriend Maddy was still here and he was occupied with her, though he still hadn’t returned to work. I think they had worked out Maddy would pay for everything while here, as he had spent all his money in Australia. He wasn’t working so had no income coming in.
I was trying to play catch-up with some free webinars offered by a friend of mine, Pooja, under her business name of Daring Daydreamers. I hadn’t been able to attend the live versions, so I was trying to catch up on the first two replays: “Vision Boarding for Success” and “Intentional Mind Mapping,” in preparation for the third one, “Communicating Your Vision with Ease” on Friday, November 3. After attending this webinar live, I signed up for the two-hour “Business Planning Workshop” which was on the 16th. Pooja had given all attendees a Business Planning Worksheet to complete prior to the webinar, which was fairly easy to do as I had started creating a business plan before I left for Japan.
I also set a goal for myself to write two draft chapters of my memoir each week, and except for Thanksgiving week, I did just that, although I must admit they are very rough drafts.
I saw a lot of movies this month, probably to make up for not seeing a single movie in the theater in October, and to escape the house. I go often to Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax on Senior Wednesday for $5.50. I went to see the adorable movie Lucky, about a 90-year-old atheist who, after a sudden collapse in his home, has to accept that his good health may be declining and that his life may be coming to an end. He’s a gruff but endearing character who gets up every morning and does a few yoga poses in his underwear, puts on one of the five identical plaid shirts he has in his closet, and goes out for a walk, smoking cigarettes along the way and encountering his fellow citizens in his small derelict town. He questions his neighbors’ beliefs and fine-tunes his own along the way.
Mike and I enjoyed a fun vegan taco dinner with our friends Karen and Michael on Saturday, the 4th. This was the first time we’ve visited them in their new house and we had a great time. On Sunday afternoon, we went together to see The Florida Project, a depressing and hopeless story about poverty and generational problems in the shadow of the make-believe land of Disney World in Florida. It definitely gave us something to talk about, especially how the mother’s behavior in letting her daughter run rampant translated into a bratty spoiled child who didn’t have any likable qualities about her.
November 7 was Election Day and in Virginia, it was an important election as we were voting for a new Governor (Ralph Northam won!), Lieutenant Governor (Justin Fairfax), Attorney General (Mark Herring) and a new delegate for the 67th District (Karrie Delaney). It turned out to be a Democratic sweep, thank goodness, a clear message to Trump that Virginians want nothing to do with his brand of hatred.
After I voted I went to my tailor and asked her to take a picture of my “I Voted” sticker; it was recommended we put pictures on social media to remind others to vote. It just so happened the picture showed her “Alterations” sign on the window, and I noted on my picture that I voted for “Alterations” in our current government.
I found a picture on Pinterest, which I don’t often look at, of a meal that inspired me to make this meal of quinoa, black beans, roasted butternut squash, avocado, arugula & yellow tomatoes. It was delicious!
On Wednesday, November 8, I went to see Victoria & Abdul, about the aging Queen Victoria and her unusual friendship with a young Indian clerk. I always love Judy Dench, and she was her superb self in this movie. We’ve also recently watched the first season of the TV series, Victoria, about Queen Victoria’s early life. Now we just need the middle part filled in.
On Thursday, November 9, I went to visit my father and his wife in Yorktown, but I stayed less than two hours. I have a fraught relationship with my father and I haven’t seen him since I threw a birthday party for him in September of 2016. At that party, his wife Shirley told me Dad wanted to cancel three weeks before the party, despite the fact that I did everything in my power to get everyone together for that party, even my sister in California who hates to fly and rarely travels. Luckily, Shirley talked Dad out of cancelling or I would have been furious. He told me at that party that he would never make the trip to northern Virginia again (about a 3 hour trip by car under the best of traffic), yet he continues to travel about 30 minutes south of here to visit his wife’s family. He’s also a Trump supporter and a racist, so I really can’t take much of him. I know he’s getting older and more frail, so I try to do my daughterly duty periodically.
After a tense conversation, I left his house and went to Richmond where I met Sarah and Alex at Joe’s Inn, where Sarah has worked as a bartender and waitress for nearly 10 years. They were finishing up their drinks and Alex had to run off to meet someone, so we shortly left. Sarah and I went by ourselves to share a lovely dinner at Demi’s Mediterranean Kitchen.
On Saturday morning I went for a walk in Sarah’s neighborhood of Woodland Park while she took her dog for a slow walk. The trees were beautiful in her neighborhood. Then we had a delicious lunch at Chopt Salad at Willow Lawn.
Woodland Heights Baptist Church
I loved all the fallen leaves in Woodland Park. I don’t know why it makes me so happy to shuffle through colorful fallen leaves in autumn.
We celebrated our anniversary (29 years minus a handful of gap years) at Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna on Monday, November 13. Earlier that day, my son’s girlfriend Maddy left to return to Australia.
This night, though fun while we were out, marked the end of innocence for our family. Little did we know this would be the beginning of a spiraling decline in our son’s life.
At this point, still foolishly believing life was good, we enjoyed our dinner. I had an appetizer of crispy broccoli with panko breading, gold raisins, caraway, and yogurt herb sauce. It was a little too heavily breaded and deep-fried for my taste; I was expecting a light dusting of bread crumbs. Mike’s appetizer of house spreads was much better: burrata, liver mousse, bacon jam, herb ricotta, currant jam, and crostinis. For dinner, I somewhat enjoyed my Arctic Char Fillet with fresh herb spaetzle pasta, oregano, and smoky tomato sauce. Again, Mike’s meal was better: pork confit steak with fingerlings, brown butter, sweet potato, eggplant caponata, and chimi churri. I’m not generally a pork eater, but this dish was lean and flavorful and surprisingly good.
Finally, to top off our meal, we had fried apple pie with lavender honey, dulce de leche, and old-fashioned ice cream. This time mine was better than Mike’s Lithuanian Honey Layer Cake with cinnamon, allspice and caramelized honey, and whipped sour cream.
fried apple pie
Lithuanian Honey Layer Cake
fried apple pie
I continued to take my 3-mile walks all over the place, but on this Thursday after our anniversary, on a walk around Lake Audubon, the trees were glowing.
On Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving, I met my friend Leah in D.C. at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace for brunch and bottomless mimosas. She lives in San Francisco but comes home to D.C. to visit her father each year around Thanksgiving. Leah got the most delicious Chopped Salad with Buttermilk-Jalapeno Dressing, Market Vegetables, and Popcorn Crawfish, while I enjoyed a small portion of 3 Cornmeal Crusted Chesapeake Oysters served over Andouille Sausage & Sweet Potato Hash. It was a tiny meal but delicious. No matter, I was mostly focused on the bottomless mimosas for $20. This Bottomless Mimosa Brunch is hosted every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm with Reggae tunes playing in the background. We had a great time all around, catching up on our lives while also bemoaning the state of our government in the last year, with the despicable and greedy Republicans in charge.
We passed by Birch and Barley, which looked to be closed but I found out later is not. I recognized it as the place where my CELTA class colleagues and students went to celebrate after our last day of class in October of 2015.
The Pajama Game was first produced in 1954, with catchy tunes and sexy dance numbers. The musical’s themes revolve around protest and inequality in the workplace.
I finished reading three books this month: first, I finished Water from heaven: An American woman’s life as an Arab wife, by Anne Schreiber Thomas. I met Anne and her husband when I lived in Oman and she and her husband lived in Abu Dhabi. The story tells of an American woman, Cindy Lou Davis, who met and married Mohammed Ali, a Muslim from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. Anne knows Cindy Lou and she did a great job of capturing Arab culture in UAE, not too dissimilar from Oman’s. I also finished Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull, which I really enjoyed. Lastly, I read the bizarre book, The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris, by Leila Marouane. I started reading this book because I planned to join a book group that is reading books from all the countries of the world in alphabetical order. The story actually takes place in Paris but it was chosen as an Algerian book, since the protagonist Mohamed Ben Mokhtar, who has Frenchified his name to Basile Tocquard, and his family are Algerian. If you’re interested in reading my reviews of these books, you can probably find them by clicking on the title links above.
On Sunday, November 19, Mike and I took a walk along the Fairfax Cross County Trail. It was a beautiful crisp fall day, but I was feeling a little anxious about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Worried about our son’s drinking, I had counted the number of wine bottles, and was certain that two had gone missing. I knew when Sarah and Alex came for the holiday, the wine would be flowing and I didn’t know how Adam would cope.
On Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, I woke up to hear a tense discussion in the basement between my husband and son, and I found a note under my empty wine rack. I had hidden all the wine bottles on Monday, but on Monday afternoon I had bought two more for the holidays and thought, He wouldn’t dare take these when they’re the last two. The note said, “Sorry for taking wine. I love you. Thank you.” Apparently he had drunk the two bottles over the night and was drunk first thing in the morning. A huge argument ensued with screaming and yelling. Things got so nasty that I threatened to call the police.
Slowly, we all calmed down and had a long talk, made up, cried and hugged. Later in the morning, I invited Adam to walk with me, again on the same Cross County Trail. We had such a wonderful day, talking about everything, about how difficult it was for him when in every social situation people are pressuring him to drink, and how he felt powerless. He talked about wanting moderation, being able to have just one or two drinks, but how he couldn’t seem to stop once he started. We talked about how it was important for him to go to AA so he wouldn’t have to go it alone, so he could have a community of people who also struggle with addiction. We could send him to rehab, I could drive him to AA, he could join some Meetup groups of people with similar interests so he didn’t feel so isolated. We talked about how he’d cope over Thanksgiving when people were drinking. We loaded him up with Kombucha, so he could drink that while others were drinking wine. He seemed receptive. After our walk, we went to Mom’s Organic Market so he could pick out some healthy food (he’s very picky about the kind of food he’ll eat) and we shared some healthy bowls at the Naked Lunch Cafe.
See how much help I tried to offer?! See how foolish, and how crazy, I was?
On our way home, Adam told me how he’d like to make some suggestions to his boss to improve his business so his boss wouldn’t be so angry all the time. It sounds like the business is growing and needs more employees, so I immediately thought of ZipRecruiter, an advertisement I hear every day on Modern Love: The Podcast. (Again, I’m so full of helpful ideas!) I told Adam that I listen every day to Modern Love and they play the same two ads: ZipRecruiter and Iconundies.com, about pee-proof underwear for women. We laughed about those and then he was interested in hearing the podcast to hear the advertisements. It just so happened the next podcast up on my list was this one: “Take My Son To Jail: Modern Love 72.” The essay, read aloud on the podcast, was about a son who was diagnosed with various things over the years, from autism to schizophrenia, but nothing ever seemed right. It turned out the son had told his mother at 18 that he wanted to be treated like an adult. Then he went through a stretch of time where he lied about everything and then stole his mother’s car. When the police in their small town called the mother, she told them to take him to jail, because he’d said he wanted to be treated like an adult and she was sick of all the lies and his behavior. She did it lovingly. Sadly, many years later, the son was found dead in his apartment at age 28 with no known cause of death.
We weren’t finished listening to the podcast when we pulled into our driveway, but Adam wanted to finish listening to it after we got in the house. As I had just threatened to call the police this morning, maybe he could identify with it. I hoped that maybe he understood where I was coming from.
We hadn’t shared a day that wonderful in a long time. All seemed good. And hopeful.
“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away. Not only did the sadness go away, but I was fantastic. I was beautiful, funny, I had a great figure, and I could do math. But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”
― Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be
But. Hope is fool’s folly when dealing with an addict. This is the dilemma. As his parents, we love him and want the best for him. We want him to be happy and productive and responsible. We want him to be a man. We are willing to do anything to help him. And this is where the problem lies. WE CANNOT HELP HIM UNLESS HE WANTS TO HELP HIMSELF. And though he SAYS he wants to help himself, he doesn’t actually take action to do it. This is where we want so desperately to believe, but we’re fools for doing so. In our belief that we can fix him, we’re as insane as he is.
Before he left for Australia in mid-September, he was doing so well. He was working, saving money, paying his debt, working solidly on a podcast which I thought was very well done. He was proud of himself for being clean for 70 days. But once he got to Australia, he was pressured constantly to drink, and apparently he did drink, so much that he didn’t like how he was feeling and acting, so he quit cold turkey. He said that weekend after he stopped was hell because everyone else was partying like their lives depended on it and he felt outside of things.
While in Australia, he lost his momentum on his podcast and spent all his money. And then he brought Maddy home with him, and he promptly got sick and didn’t go back to work. He and Maddy broke up and she left earlier than she originally planned. Maybe their relationship was doomed because of the hopelessness of being on opposite sides of the world. Maddy doesn’t want to leave Australia and he doesn’t want to leave the U.S. He has no career and no direction and knows he needs to get his life together, but he just can’t seem to muster what it takes.
This is the nature of the addict.
“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Thanksgiving actually went pretty well. Sarah and Alex arrived, they drank wine and Adam drank Kombucha. We enjoyed chatting and we all watched several episodes of Fresh Off the Boat together, all bundled together under blankets on the couch in the basement. The next day, we worked together to prepare dinner, enjoyed our huge meal, and then played a rousing game of Malarky together. It was great fun; I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. But where all of us could laugh, make fun of ourselves, and relax, Adam seemed on edge, testy. He always wants to win and takes it personally when he thinks he’s going to lose. He can be condescending and difficult to be around.
The day after Thanksgiving was worse, with Adam staying mostly to himself and Alex working out. Sarah was her easy-going self. I suggested we all go see Lady Bird together and everybody was up for it. I enjoyed it. Sarah said it reflected perfectly the struggles of her generation. I’m sure all my kids could relate to the mother-child struggles, with the mother pushing her child to be the best she could be.
But later, Adam sat in front of the TV, lost in his own thoughts, not talking to Alex or Sarah or any of us. He was supposed to go to work Friday night, but called in sick. He should have gone Saturday, but he didn’t then either. Sarah and Alex left around 11:00 on Saturday, and Adam went back into his shell, seeming more depressed than ever.
“I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy, I didn’t have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. I didn’t make for an interesting person. I didn’t want to be interesting, it was too hard. What I really wanted was only a soft, hazy space to live in, and to be left alone. On the other hand, when I got drunk I screamed, went crazy, got all out of hand. One kind of behavior didn’t fit the other. I didn’t care.”
― Charles Bukowski, Women
Difficult Valley Stream
On Sunday, Adam got up early and went to work. He was at work from 7 in the morning till 7:30 at night.Mike and I went for a fun hike at Maryland Heights. In the evening, we got a text that he was going to his friend’s house. I know he needs to have friends, but I know these friends like to drink. I was on edge all night. He never came home until 9:30 Monday morning. I didn’t know if he’d been drinking but I couldn’t help but suspect it. He steered clear of me and later in the day, I found him sleeping the day away in the basement. I asked if he’d been drinking last night and if he was going to an AA meeting we’d told him about on Monday evening. He answered no to both and said not to bother him, he was napping.
Later in the evening, I was determined that we talk to him together. We went downstairs and told him we wanted to talk to him about going to AA. Highly on edge, he said he wasn’t going and he didn’t want to talk about it. We insisted that we need to talk about it because our agreement was that he would start going to AA if he lived in our house. Tempers escalated and things got ugly, ending with him pounding a hole in his door, another hole in the wall, breaking his computer, and picking up an ottoman and trying to throw it at a TV. He said horrible things to us and was out of control. He told us he was more powerful than us and he became threatening. I threatened to call the police.
When things escalated even more, the decibel level nearly explosive, I did just what I threatened. I called the police, telling them we had a domestic situation. Adam left the house and sat outside waiting for the police. He wanted to tell his side of the story first, I guess. It was a horrible night. I told the police I wanted him out of the house. They told us we couldn’t just throw him out at that moment. They told me there was nothing they could do unless he actually hurt us. Wow, that might be too late, mightn’t it? The officer was a good man, kind and sympathetic. He said, with all his experience over 20 years with this kind of situation, there is nothing we can do to help our son unless he wants to help himself. He told us our options; we could go to the Sheriff’s Office and file eviction papers, post them on our house, and have him evicted in 30 days. We could file charges for property damages. He suggested we should wait till our tempers had calmed to continue our discussion. Then he left the house. I stood up, said I was done talking for the night, and went upstairs to bed, saying I had nothing more to say. But. I couldn’t sleep because I could hear Mike and Adam talking for two more hours, voices raised.
Later, Mike told me that in two hours of talking, our son said that when he came home from Hawaii, he spent two full weeks trying to detox by sleeping and spending a lot of time alone. He said Mike didn’t know how much he suffered because he was at work all the time (I was in Japan). He said he really does want to change.
I won’t believe it until I see it. I’m ready to file eviction papers at a moment’s notice, but I said I’d see how it goes over the next week. I hate the thought of evicting him in the middle of winter, but I don’t know what else to do. We have absolutely no control over him and I actually feel threatened in my house.
“You’re walking down Fool’s Street, Laura used to say when he was drinking, and she had been right. He had known even then that she was right, but knowing had made no difference; he had simply laughed at her fears and gone on walking down it, till finally he had stumbled and fell. Then, for a long time, he stayed away, and if he had stayed away long enough he would have been all right; but one night he began walking down it again – and met the girl. It was inevitable that on Fool’s Street there should be women as well as wine.
He had walked down it many times in many different towns, and now he was walking down it once again in yet another town. Fool’s Street never changed, no matter where you went, and this one was no different from the others. The same skeletonic signs bled beer names in vacant windows; the same winos sat in doorways nursing muscatel; the same drunk tank awaited you when at last your reeling footsteps failed. And if the sky was darker than usual, it was only because of the rain which had begun falling early that morning and been falling steadily ever since.”
― Robert F. Young, The Worlds of Robert F. Young
On Tuesday night, we watched the DVR of Madam Secretary we had recorded on Sunday. In the show, President Dalton was upset because his son, a drug addict, had checked himself into rehab. After an international incident in which the U.S., at the President’s insistence, tried to negotiate with Mexico to turn over an imprisoned drug lord to the U.S. to be prosecuted, Secretary McCord tells the President she’s sorry about his son. He says the worst thing is that no matter how many times his son goes to rehab, and how often he gets clean, he’s always going to have that demon on his shoulder, threatening to send him spiraling again.
Why has it taken us so long to face the fact our son is depressed and an alcoholic? Sure, we’ve had our suspicions. But I have tried to normalize it. I know depression runs in our family and all of us have grappled with it. I remind myself how many young people drink, how much I used to drink when I was in my 20s. But, then I never drank alone. I was always able to get up and go to work. Could I quit after two drinks? I often didn’t, but could I have?
How many times have we deluded ourselves? I’ve lost count. I had a wonderful day with my son on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my sweet and brilliant son who was once so close to me. Now, less than a week later, we are in dire straits. I never know when another bomb will drop; it’s like I’m living in a war zone. He is depressed but refuses to seek help because he doesn’t trust doctors and he refuses to go on anti-depressants, yet he continues to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. He is isolated and lonely, but he won’t go to AA. He thinks he’s more powerful than we are and we can’t force him to do anything. And he’s right about that. If he won’t help himself, how on earth can we help him?
Plainly and simply, we can’t.
But we can’t let him drag us down into his abyss. That I know. I am considering options. I am leaving open the eviction option. I am considering leaving the house and going to stay somewhere else until he’s out of the house. I am figuring out ways I can take care of myself and stop offering him help and solutions. He doesn’t want our help anyway, and in fact resents our meddling. I will work on myself, as I’m the only one who is any of my business.
“There are millions of people out there who live this way, and their hearts are breaking just like mine. It’s okay to say, “My kid is a drug addict or alcoholic, and I still love them and I’m still proud of them.” Hold your head up and have a cappuccino. Take a trip. Hang your Christmas lights and hide colored eggs. Cry, laugh, then take a nap. And when we all get to the end of the road, I’m going to write a story that’s so happy it’s going to make your liver explode. It’s going to be a great day.”
― Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be
I grew up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic and who attempted suicide (and failed) too many times to count. The first time, she walked in front of a neighbor’s VW van when I was 13 years old. Another time she drove into a tree. She was in and out of mental hospitals, undergoing electroshock therapy, and she was constantly on cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs. She was also an alcoholic. I survived those years by detaching and I’ll have to survive this by detaching. I love my son deeply, but I’m going to stand back for now. I have to, to keep from going crazy. Until he gets his life together, I need to keep distance between us. The whole environment is too toxic and too heartbreaking.
It may seem strange to be writing about anniversary celebrations, going to movies, reading books, meeting friends, and celebrating holidays in the midst of the hell we are going through. But that is life, isn’t it? We can choose to sit around wringing our hands in desperation, hoping that something good will come of all this or, alternatively, bracing ourselves for something horrible to happen. Or we can try to eke out moments of happiness in whatever ways we can in the midst of it all. I’m going to try to do the latter, for my sanity, which I’m determined to preserve. I did it when growing up with my mentally ill mother, so I’ll do it with my son as well.
We are at a stand-off now. I haven’t laid eyes on our son since Monday night, and he lives in our basement. Mike goes down once a day to check to see if he’s still alive. I cannot forget our terrifying Monday night and I’m sure he is furious at us. He probably feels hopeless, and that makes my heart break. But we feel hopeless too. Forgiveness will be slow in coming.
On Wednesday, November 29, I went again to Senior Wednesday to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This may have been one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. The characters were complex and grew and learned from their experiences. It gave me a little hope for all of us.
Friday, December 1: I went to an Al-Anon meeting today at an Episcopal Church I used to attend. This group works on the 12 steps, one step each Friday at noon. Today, it so happened that they were working on Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It helped me to listen to nearly 20 people share their struggles with the alcoholic or drug addicts in their lives. It helped me feel part of a community, that all is not hopeless, and that I need to focus on myself and to ask for help from a Higher Power. One thing I learned in Al-Anon today is that I have to trust in my Higher Power, whatever that means to me, and then I have to let go and believe that my son has his own Higher Power who will take care of him. They said to me: “Keep coming back.” I’ve dropped into Al-Anon meetings in the past, but only periodically, when things were in crisis mode. This time, I need to commit to going regularly, at least once a week, if not more.
Many people may be put off by my sharing of something so personal. But I am a strong believer in deep sharing, rather than superficiality. Looking at social media, one would think everyone’s lives are fine and glorious things. There is deep shame in society about talking about mental illness, depression and addiction. But I believe if we don’t talk about it, and we continue to sweep it under the table, it will continue to infect our societies, generation after generation, ad infinitum.
One day, you might be able to read all about all of this in my memoir.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll tell me something about your November, your life, your experiences, whether exciting or challenging. Anyway, I wish you all a fabulous December and a festive holiday season. 🙂
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?
“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)
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
– Jim Jarmusch
On December 20, I started reading the classic novel by Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. I wrote this review of it on Goodreads:
It’s easy to despise the deeply flawed pedophile Humbert Humbert, with his long-time sexual abuse of his 12-year-old nymphet/daughter Dolores Haze (his Lolita, his Lo). I have put off reading the book forever because of the subject matter, which is certainly hard to take.
That being said, it’s hard not to fall in love with Nabokov’s prose. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Jeremy Irons, and found some scenes to be so perfectly rendered, so engrossing, that I had to check the book out of the library so I could read and study the passages. Nabokov’s prose is so detailed, so observant, so meticulous, so perfect, so nuanced! If only I had such command of the English language. And to think that Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899 and English wasn’t even his first language, having moved to the U.S. in 1940. I highly recommend this book just to experience the author’s writing style and wonderful use of language.
I was engrossed in the book at the time we went to Philadelphia, admittedly bowled over by the author’s writing style. So it was a strange coincidence when we went out to look for a dinner restaurant near our hotel, The Independent, and we happened upon the enticing Lolita tucked into a narrow space on South 13th Street.
We sat down at the bar because it was crowded; no matter, we enjoy sitting at the bar anyway. I found an appealing new drink on the menu: a jalapeno and cucumber margarita, which was ultra-refreshing and not too sweet. As I sipped this marvelous concoction, I mentioned to one of the bartenders, a young woman, that it was serendipitous that we found Lolita because I’m right in the middle of listening to the audiobook.
She gushed that she adored Nabokov: “His prose is amazing! There is nothing like it!” Her enthusiasm matched my feelings, and I felt an instant kinship with her. This is what reading will do to a person.
We enjoyed Lolita’s ambiance, as well as our fabulous dinners: chipotle shrimp enchiladas verdes(charred tomatillos, serranos, garlic & cilantro) stuffed with roasted sunchokes, sauteed local greens, queso mixto & radish salad for me, and queso fundido(charred corn puree, queso mixto, local mushroom mix, roasted baby corn & poblanos, served with warm corn tortillas – served with house-made chorizo for Mike.
Inspiration is found in unlikely places. All one has to do it be open to it, recognize it, and run with it. After reading Lolita, I can only dream of writing like Nabokov. I know I don’t have that talent, but if I could remotely approach him, I would be happy. I’ve been thrilled by writers before, and I’ve yearned to have such natural and spontaneous creativity. In writing classes, teachers often encourage students to find admired masters and try to mimic their style. Of course, a writer is also supposed to find his or her own “voice” when writing. But my voice seems so boring!
When I read something like Lolita that makes my heart beat faster, that takes my breath away, then I want to study it, dissect it, analyze it, and try to take something away from it. If I could write even one sentence like that, just one….it might be possible to write another, and yet another.
In the book, at the beginning of part two, Humbert Humbert and Lolita take a road trip across the country. I’ve taken many American road trips in my life, and Nabokov captures a small part of their journey perfectly in this passage:
Now and then, in the vastness of those plains, huge trees would advance toward us to cluster self-consciously by the roadside, and provide a bit of humanitarian shade above a picnic table, with sun flecks, flattened paper cups, samaras and discarded ice-cream sticks littering the brown ground. A great user of roadside facilities, my unfastidious Lo would be charmed by toilet signs — Guys-Gals, John-Jane, Jack-Jill and even Buck’s-Doe’s; while lost in an artist’s dream, I would stare at the honest brightness of the gasoline paraphernalia against the splendid green of oaks, or at a distant hill scrambling out — scarred but still untamed — from the wilderness of agriculture that was trying to swallow it. (p. 153, 50th anniversary edition, Lolita, June 1997)
This scene is wonderfully rendered. The picture of “huge trees” advancing toward the moving car, clustering “self-consciously by the roadside,” and providing “a bit of humanitarian shade” is not only great description but it prompts in the reader a leap of imagination. It endows the trees with human qualities — self-consciousness and humanitarianism — and prods us to see them with vague and tender recognition. We might not have described them that way ourselves, but we feel the rightness of the description. The “sun flecks” suggest a summer afternoon, indolent and barely breezy, the setting for a romantic rendezvous that has now ended, with remnants of confetti scattered as reminders. Samaras seem exotic; when I look them up, I find they are a type of fruit with a flattened wing of papery tissue developing from the ovary wall. The discarded ice-cream sticks conjure up children, and yes, Lolita is a child, a nymphet, that thing Humbert longs for, that thing he can’t resist. Here, like the child Lolita is the object of Humbert’s desires, the flower and the ice-cream sticks are both exotic and sexual; together, they hint at the protagonist’s pedophilia, of which we are all too aware from our reading. Humbert even finds Lo’s unfastidiousness attractive; we already know this from what we’ve read before. Nabokov doesn’t waste any opportunity to infuse his writing with reminders of Humbert’s obsession.
I love the different names on the toilet signs, a fantastic detail which captures the nuances in the monotony that one sees on a road trip. We all know the frequent stops we have to make on a road trip, especially as a child, “How much further, Dad? I need to go to the bathroom!” I can just picture the gleaming “gasoline paraphernalia” of the 1950s (Lolita was published in 1955), painstakingly polished by gas station attendants who cared lovingly for their roadside facilities. And I love how the distant hill “scrambles out — scarred but still untamed” much like his own Lolita. She is certainly scarred, but he’s never really able to tame her.
How can we write fabulous prose? It seems to me some people have a natural ability to do so; others of us have to struggle mightily to come up with one good sentence. Just looking at Nabokov’s prose, here’s what I take away:
Be observant when you’re out in the world. Notice every little detail. This one is hardest for me, as I seem to wander around with blinders on half the time.
Carry a notebook or a camera so you’re always ready to capture what you see or feel, what you smell or hear, what you taste. Take time-outs with your notebook at a cafe to write notes.
Note anything unique and unusual; anything that is out of place. The flattened paper cups, the discarded ice-cream sticks. Things that seem unimportant yet create such perfect details in a story.
Note things that are mundane: the picnic tables, the roadside facilities, the gasoline paraphernalia, the names on the toilets. These are things that everyone sees and expects to see, and often go unnoticed.
Describe the things you see using human qualities – “cluster self-consciously” or “provide a bit of humanitarian shade.”
If you have trouble with this, note what you see and then brainstorm words that might describe human emotions or states. Experiment with word pairings. I love when a word is paired with another word in a surprising way.
Find active verbs to describe static things: “a distant hill scrambling out.”
Make something mundane seem interesting: as in the frequent stops at the roadside facilities and the bathroom names.
So, what could I come up with in my attempt to write a Nabokov-like paragraph about a road trip?
As we drive north on that white-lined freeway fenced in by concrete barriers, the Toyota RAV’s rubber wipers swish the drizzle to and fro on the windshield, a squeaky metronome. Sedans and SUVs from Maryland, Virginia, The Garden State — even the Sunshine State with its green-leafed oranges — press in as they whizz past, their tires flinging dirt-infused mist on our windshield. A Warehouse for Lease! slumps on the fringes, punctuated by green highway signs with white letters announcing exits like Bel Air and Emmorton Road. Black spiny trees blur along the roadside approaching Exit 80, where blue signs announce Food: McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts. U2 sings “Mysterious Ways” and highway vagabond Miranda Lambert wants to “go somewhere where nobody knows.” I’ve snagged my left thumbnail and as usual, I don’t have any nail clippers in my purse. The annoying snag persists. A brown sign announces we’re passing Susquehanna State Park and another forbids U-turns and when we cross the bridge, a ghost brigade of mist rises off the Susquehanna. Barns, silos, and bristly sepia fields scroll past and an aqua “Town of Perryville” water tower mutters a greeting. On the stretch of industrial corridor near Port of Wilm, metal utility towers spread their triple-triangle arms and factories belch smoke, gasping their last breath. Blue-green porta-potties stand in formation along the tracks and containers lie like coffins on idle trains. The derelict train station’s windows are broken. Citywide Limousine squats beside a lot of Ryder trucks and an empty pedestrian bridge covered in chain-link looms over us as we sputter underneath.
Finally, “Pennsylvania, State of Independence,” welcomes us while Hidden Figures of NASA stand in all their mathematical genius on an electronic billboard. Run-down brick row houses hug the highway behind a thin veil of chain-links. CSX rail cars hunker along the highway, dead in their tracks. Another billboard promises “The Wounded Warrior Project helps me heal the wounds you can’t see.” At Philadelphia Energy Solutions, giant cylindrical tanks with blue bands around the tops squat on the land and, next door, bundled paper haphazardly occupies a recycling plant. A pink “Risqué Video” sign entices those so-inclined. We skid into the Philly outskirts, land of the free and home of the tired.
I’d like to challenge my readers to write a paragraph describing something or someplace and share it as a link in my comments.
Sunday, August 30: I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve invited you over for a cocktail hour. I’m so happy to see you! It’s taken me a long while to get settled in back home here in Virginia. Please come in and help yourself to a drink. I have some Bud Light Lime, which Mike calls a fake beer but I find cool and refreshing in the summer heat, and some Montes Cabernet Sauvignon. If you prefer a cool glass of white wine, I have some La Granja verdejo viura, a Spanish wine I picked up at Trader Joe’s. Though the weather’s warm (88 F today), we haven’t had humidity all week, so it’s quite pleasant outside this evening. We’ll have a seat on my patio, covered in moss as it as, as there really is nowhere else to sit outside.
Our house here in Oakton is rather a mess, so I apologize. Our kitchen and deck badly need replacing, and we’ll be embarking on a major construction project soon to redo the kitchen, possibly knocking down the wall between our family room and kitchen. We’ll also tear down the deck and replace it with a screened-in porch, and change our laundry room into a mudroom/pantry/laundry room. Because of this, the only good place I have for us to sit outdoors is on our patio, which is also in a state of disrepair and is covered in that moss. It’s Virginia, after all, a state prone to damp summers and wild foliage growth, so the moss taking over our patio isn’t a total surprise.
Mike suggested I have the cocktail hour on the patio, and he quipped, “Unlike our mossy patio, no moss will grow on this rolling stone” (meaning me). He is endlessly patient with me and my restlessness and my wanderings. I don’t know why he puts up with it; maybe he enjoys having a break from me after going on 27 years of marriage (with a 7 year break ending in 2013). 🙂 Anyway, he’s joining us tonight, so you can ask him yourself!
Please, tell me all about you. Have you been enjoying the last bits of summer? Have you traveled to exotic lands or had a staycation? Have you gone to any outdoor concerts or plays? Have you seen your children off to conquer new challenges? Have you been on any retreats? Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you eaten at any good restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home? Have you harvested fresh vegetables from your garden? Have you been to the beach, or gone swimming in a lake? Have you been exercising and eating healthy? Have you been on any shopping sprees?
The one thing I have done most religiously since I returned home is to exercise every day. I started out walking every day for 3 miles. I’ve only missed two days since I returned home, so I’m quite proud of myself. I gained 7 pounds when I was in China, and I was already heavier than I would have liked BEFORE I left for China. Thus, I have been keeping track of my calories and exercise on my fitness pal, and so far I’ve lost the 7 pounds I gained in China and am working on losing more. Here’s a chart of my weight loss, which mistakenly states that I started at 150 lbs. My actual weight when I returned from China and California (where I went a little crazy with American food!) was 152.2. As of today, I’m at 144.8. I’m really hoping to stick it out and get down to 135!!
A couple of weeks ago, I started going to Oak Marr RECenter twice a week to work out with weights. Last week, I started going to a Zumba class. I’m so hopelessly uncoordinated, but it’s a great workout and lots of fun! I sweat like crazy for an hour, so it must be doing some good. I don’t feel so bad about being uncoordinated as there are a bunch of Korean and Japanese ladies in the class who seem almost as uncoordinated as I am. I’m not going to let it bother me that I can’t get the steps right; I’m just going to enjoy it and poke fun at myself for my hopeless inability to keep up!
While I was in China, I had set up an appointment with a GI for August 3 because I had been so sick in China all year. However, as soon as I got home, all my stomach problems mysteriously disappeared. Hmm. Since the appointment had already been set up, I went in to see the doctor anyway. He was baffled as to why I had come in, and he told me to keep eating healthy and exercising and I would probably continue to feel fine.
I helped Alex, my oldest son, move to Richmond at the end of July. He’s now attending Virginia Commonwealth University, where he hopes to get a degree in Exercise Science. His sister, Sarah, already lives in Richmond and should finally finish her degree in English at the end of the fall semester. Here is Alex’s new house and him in his room with his sister. Sorry the pictures are a little blurry, but my camera has been acting up. I will need to be looking for a new camera sometime soon, possibly by my birthday on October 25. This will be my 60th. Ouch. 🙂
Other than exercising, I’ve been working on a 5-hour free grammar course (more like 10+ hours!) and a pre-task for the course I’m taking beginning September 21 at Teaching House, which runs the University of Cambridge CELTA (the Certificate in English Language Teaching), the most widely accepted TESOL program in the world. It’s a month-long highly intensive course. I think I won’t have a life during that month, or in the coming weeks, as I prepare for the course.
I was surprised on Thursday, August 6, to get a text message from one of my Chinese students, Christine. She wrote that she was on a train from New York to Washington with her mother and they hoped to take me out to dinner in Washington. It turned out that Mike and I trekked downtown and took Christine and her mother to the Lincoln Restaurant. Christine’s English is not bad, and her mother could understand and speak limited English. When the server tried to explain the complex dishes, such a far stretch from Chinese dishes, Christine said immediately that all she wanted was meat. She ordered the plate of BBQ ribs, and we had to demonstrate how she should eat them! The plate was almost as big as she is. Neither she nor her mother had any interest in the small plates Mike and I ordered: Ricotta gnocchi, Shrimp & Grits, and the Pennsylvania Chicken Pot Pie. When the waitress put the Shishito Pepper Hush Puppies on the table, Christine asked tentatively: “Is that dog meat?” We were taken aback momentarily by her misunderstanding of the word “puppies,” and we all got quite a laugh out of it. 🙂
Our dinner with Christine was on Friday, August 7, and on Sunday, the 9th, Mike and I went downtown to Arena Stage to see the emotionally moving musical, Dear Evan Hansen. The play explores how far we’ll go to fulfill our need for connection. According to the playbill: “In our social media world where ‘friend’ is now a verb, and we only share the highlights of our life, what happens when we reveal our true thoughts and feelings?” The sets were wonderfully done, with columns displaying Tweets and Facebook posts and rotating sets of Evan’s bedroom and the living room of a family whose son committed suicide. The opening number of the play brought tears to my eyes, as I know how isolating our digitally connected society is for young people, and frankly, for all of us. It was a phenomenal performance.
The following weekend, August 14-16, I went to Richmond to have dinner with Sarah and Alex at a Greek restaurant called Stella’s and then drove from there to Monterey in southwestern Virginia, where I attended a women’s mid-life retreat organized by Annette of Beauty Along the Road. I stayed two nights at the Laurel Point Bed & Breakfast, a lovely place overlooking the mountains in Monterey.
We did a lot of interesting activities on the retreat, including making a timeline collage of our lives. Here’s mine:
We also brainstormed as a group the issues women face in mid-life; we wrote a letter to someone who we feel has held us down in our lives and then we burned that letter; we did individual brainstorms in answer to the question: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? We also visualized what our life what will be like in 5 years and then we created a plan of action for the next year to achieve that goal.
To make ourselves accountable, we were asked to declare our intention. My intention is to have my novel published in one year, by August 16, 2016. Here are the steps with a timeline to reach that goal:
Research agents at the library and online and from books I like.
Find at least 10 agents by August 31 and note what each agent requires: query letter, synopsis, number of pages/word count, format of 1st 50 pages or first 3 chapters.
Finalize my query letter by September 20.
Write my synopsis by October 31.
Send out whatever is required to 10 agents by November 30.
Repeat the process and find 10 more agents. Sent next 10 queries to agents by January 31, 2016.
Continue to repeat this process.
If I can’t get anywhere, look into self-publishing.
Next we had to list the obstacles we might encounter. Mine are:
My word count is 107,000 and most agents won’t look at a novel over 100,000 words.
My query letter needs work.
I haven’t written a synopsis.
I may need to edit the novel again.
Lack of knowledge of the proper steps to take.
We also had to list some allies who might be able to help us achieve our goals.
At the end of the retreat, we each took a seat in a special chair while everyone said words about us that were recorded by a group member. Here are the kind words that people said about me. I was humbled and flattered by the whole process and will keep these words with me to look at whenever I get discouraged.
The retreat was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot about myself and the issues other women are struggling with. I hope I can stay on track with my big goal despite the time commitment of my upcoming CELTA course. I’ll be reflecting often on what I learned at that retreat. I highly recommend it for other women in the area.
Other than my constant exercising, household chores, de-cluttering, moving my kids out and onward, and attending the retreat, I’ve also seen some interesting movies in theaters, including A Borrowed Identity, Trainwreck, Samba, The End of the Tour, Phoenix, Ricki and the Flash, and Mr. Holmes. You can see I’ve been busy making up for the time I lost in China! I’ve also watched the last season of Last Tango in Halifax and have gotten involved in the Danish political series, Borgen. I’ve also been watching some of the series Rectify.
As for books, I’ve read I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum and Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, both of which I loved! I’m now reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which I’m also enjoying immensely. 🙂
I’ve eaten at Lebanese Taverna, Cafesano (Italian), Saba’ Yemeni Restaurant and Guapo’s (Mexican). I’ve been shopping for healthy foods at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and trying to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and watching my portion sizes. Other than an occasional treat of cheese and chili rellenos, I’ve been pretty self-disciplined!
Most of my friends know how I love to shop. I’ve been on a few shopping sprees mostly to buy various types of jeans and some cute tops, and even a kimono wrap thingy. I hardly wore jeans at all in Oman or China because it was just too hot, and I realized I didn’t have any that fit me. So, yes, I’ve done a little shopping and I’ve probably gone a bit overboard. Here’s me at some of my recent weights and wearing some of my cute purchases. I do love fashion, but it sure helps if you’re tall and thin, neither of which I am!
me at 147.4 with my kimono thingy on the way to Arena Stage
me at 144.2 – BEFORE I ate chili rellenos for dinner!
As for reverse culture shock, I haven’t experienced it as much this time as the first two times I returned home from abroad. The main reason is that I’ve let go of all expectations. I don’t expect any friends to contact me, and slowly but surely, I’ll make an effort to contact those people I’d like to see. I find myself weaning out my list of friends each time I return as I don’t feel like bothering to contact people who never make any effort with me. After all, what’s the point? There are people I love and care for: people who don’t judge me and people who make me laugh and people with whom I have a shared history; those people will continue to be part of my life. As for anyone new I meet, I’ll be happy to share my life with them if they’re interested in doing so!
I’m so happy that you joined me tonight for cocktail hour on the mossy patio. I hope you feel relaxed, even though you had to listen to a lot from me! I can’t wait to hear about what you’ve been up to; hopefully it’s something that has brought you laughter, peace, tranquility, and even adventure. I’ll try to have a cocktail hour more frequently, so we don’t have quite so much to catch up on. Please, do come back and join me again!
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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!
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.