Taking stock

Former teachers in Country X have blogs. I’ve been reading one of them today. Previously, I had read a few others. Mostly, I’m combing through for small details that might give me some idea of what to expect: How populated does the town I’m going to seem to be? What does that suggest about what I might be able to buy without travelling a long distance? (They have 2-minute noodles.) How cold does it look like it is? (Cold.) Is there electricity? (In the evenings.) And running water? (Couldn’t tell.)

What I read instead was a cheery, upbeat blog about the beauty and wonder of the country and the joy of teaching students years behind grade level with tools no more sophisticated than chalk and stones, despite such problems as contracting typhoid.

It was not encouraging.

I am neither that cheery nor that upbeat and I have serious doubts about surviving in a place where that kind of attitude might be required.

So I began to take stock of myself and my expectations—which consequently meant I couldn’t sleep. Which is also why I’m up writing at this hour.

I don’t expect to have a particularly good year. It might be wonderful. It might not be. I don’t know about that part. But I expect it to be difficult, exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes overwhelming. And then I realized I expect that because all of my life has been difficult, exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes overwhelming. Same experience, different country.

To be specific, I expect I will be horribly, miserably cold. Feeling cold will trigger intense, physical and emotional memories of the freezer. I will feel depressed and hopeless a lot while still needing to teach and interact with others as a professional six days a week.

I will fall sick—at least as often as usual, very likely more often. And being sick will remind me of other things that have happened to me that made me ache all over. So I’ll have to deal with that, while also having no doctor to consult about whether and what medication to take: in other words, I’ll need to make important health decisions while thinking maybe I’d be better off dead.

This is all part of my new approach to life: life has been difficult for me, it is difficult, it will be difficult.


Sometimes I don’t like this straight grappling with reality. Sometimes cheery, upbeat and avoidant seems like a lot more fun—or at least less torturous—and I feel like going back to the old mindset again of minimizing, denying, or trying to solve every potential problem I anticipate.

But there are only so many thermals you can fit in a suitcase and there is only so much that over-the-counter painkillers can do for you. These are problems I can’t solve. Cold was triggering to me the last time I really felt it. There isn’t any particular reason I shouldn’t expect cold to be triggering to me next week when I arrive in Country X. When I came down with a bit of an achy, stuffy cold last week, I was reminded of things I didn’t want to be reminded of. I did feel despair. It was difficult to motivate myself to do what I needed to do to prepare for the next move. I can probably expect that to happen again too.

This will be a difficult year for me. Most years are.


Watching the Clouds

Gloomy_Cloud_Stock_14_by_MissyStockA nap, a walk, and a pot of tea later and I feel a bit more human and able to cope. Also, I might have one or two thoughts in my head.

Also, they have mercifully turned down the heat.

I have not been outside. They told us on the plane in the morning that it was 11 degrees C, which sounds cold. Well, sort of. Chilly would be the better term perhaps. Even in Fahrenheit, it doesn’t sound balmy. But it’s been roasting inside most of the day. Why people are walking around in jumpers and coats is beyond me.

Mumbai is 29 degrees. So perhaps this is a good preparation.

Do you wonder what it was like in the days when it took a week to get across the Atlantic? But then the ship becomes a world of its own. As on a cruise, people have affairs and end them, take up hobbies only to abandon them later, make friends, make enemies. An airport is not quite like that, because although I have been here nearly the whole day, everyone else has simply come and gone. My day and a half in transit is different still.

Sometimes, I continue on with a few of the same people who began with me, but I don’t think that will happen this time. This kind of travel is about being surrounded by people, but being alone.

Although that has changed. The isolation is not as intense as it once was. I checked my email. I tried to make sure I hadn’t missed too many posts from my favourite blogs. Our devices have created a different world for us, and although they sometimes seem to push people away–as the device becomes our new BFF–it also brings us closer.

Nonetheless, this is the only thing I do that is exactly like this. There is nothing else quite like it.

I don’t really mind it, although NSAIDs become my own BFF, and although there is really nothing I can do about the quite literal pain in my ass the hours of sitting leads to. I think it’s good for us to be alone sometimes. It’s good to be made to stop and consider: Where are we going? Where have we been? It’s good to be forced to sit and watch the clouds for a while.

Some Dribs and Drabs

Every day is more exhausting than the last this week, and each day I get slightly less done that I had expected. Which is nothing short of alarming.

However, I continue to feel compelled to post.

So here is a list of some recent realizations, happenings, and events.

cat1) I still do not have a job in Country X. I also do not not have a job. There were, evidently, some delays. I am reminded of Shrodinger’s cat. During the period when we do not know whether the cat is alive or dead, is it still alive? I’m choosing at the moment to think the cat is still alive. I don’t know whether I have a job yet. Therefore, during this period in which I do not know, I have one. That’s logical enough, right?

2) I have come to the conclusion that I do not need to understand absolutely everything. There are some things I simply do not need to get. I’m sure I could if I really, really tried, but I don’t need to. And my time might be better spent doing something else. My father, for example. Possibly my retirement plan as well.

3) If it’s really important, do it first, before you get all tired and forgetful and just want to get the hell out of there. I have returned to the house where I’m sleeping and am realizing I have no clean clothes to wear tomorrow other than a fresh pair of panties. Because I didn’t pack the clothes first.

Shedding Still

This will need to be short.

The plan for the day involves moving the furniture I intend to keep out of my place. Which is why I fell asleep at last some time around 1:30 in the morning. Sleep is something I don’t do before major changes.

I should, probably, be doing something useful and productive this morning like throw something away–I have come to the conclusion that I have too much stuff. Like a lot too much stuff.

I love getting rid of things. That’s why this is so hard. The parts don’t agree.

Because I’m also afraid I will have nothing left.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to let myself have fun.

A Wish for Nostalgia

fall_leavesThere is something about going through your whole life’s accumulated crap that gets you to thinking. I wish it wouldn’t. I wish I could stick to the mere matter of, “What do I think will be useful in the future?” and “Is this something I actually like?”

But mostly I can’t manage that.

I threw out photos of my sister today because she is just not a part of my life–I have other photos, but she had given these to me especially as a birthday present. It’s time to let go of the hope that she ever will be. She hurt me, badly, for years. She hurt me when she had the choice not to. I don’t hold that against her, really. But it does mean something in terms of what part I’d like her to play in my future. Because what it means is that she’s a cog in the sad machine of my family’s insanity. And I really and truly want nothing to do with any of them.

I’m sad about that.

There are things I can’t wait to chuck out of my apartment because they remind me of my attempts to make sense of what had happened to me in the past or I bought them with a person who was nothing more than a product of my past.

The past will always be there, but I don’t want to have much to do with it either. The best thing about the past was that I was able to wrench the present out of it.

I’m sad about that too.

I wish it weren’t that way. I wish the past were something I could look back on fondly. I was reading someone’s status update the other day. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but something had reminded her of her college days. “Some of the best years of my life,” she said. The best year of my life is right now.

It’s good not to hold onto the past too tightly. It’s good to be able to step boldly into the future.  But I wish the past were something I wanted to cling to, if only for a little while.


Not Country X.
Not Country X.

In my college days, people sometimes held BYOB parties (Bring Your Own Beer). I think this was an attempt to get around college regulations on serving alcohol, which involved hiring a not-inexpensive licensed bartender and security guards. But maybe people were just being cheap. Maybe we were taking our first steps into being the DIY generation.

I’m not really sure, since I don’t drink, and I don’t like loud parties unless the music is especially good. College kids have terrible taste, so it was never good. Consequently, I didn’t actually attend these parties. I just saw the fliers.

Anyway, maybe BYOB still stands for Bring Your Own Beer. Maybe it doesn’t.

Does it go checked or carry-on?
Does it go checked or carry-on?

But yesterday I received a packing list for Country X and it turns out that Country X is a Bring Your Own Salt and Pepper destination.

Which gave me pause.

There is remote. And then there is BYOS&P. BYOS&P is remote. I mean remote remote. And I started to have some doubts.

I’m not exactly scared. I am aware that I could die during this placement. Someone did last year, although they usually don’t. It’s not that Country X is especially dangerous. It’s just that if you fall sick they may or may not be able to provide you with adequate medical care in a timely fashion.

At the same time, I am also aware I could die pretty easily here. The probability might even be the same.

The difference would be in the cause of death. Instead of perishing from lack of access to medical care, in my home country, I am more likely to die from being struck by a vehicle whose driver was texting at the wheel. Or in a mugging gone too far. Or a stray bullet on New Year’s Eve or in a gang shooting. We die of different things here. But people die everywhere. So I am not so worried about death.

I am worried about being able to cope.

In light of this, I took up some soul-searching this morning over a pot of tea and some oatmeal. This is what I came up with:

They will have better birds. Pretty sure.
They will have better birds. Pretty sure.

1) What I really enjoy are things you can find everywhere or very nearly: birds, quiet mornings, tea. Even my city is quiet in the mornings if I get up early enough. Anyway, it is so loud most of the time that quiet doesn’t take much.

2) Change is stressful: Any kind of change is stressful. Even good change. It’s as stressful for me as for anyone else. But what I’ve done in the past is try to adjust. You can’t prevent the stress, but you can shorten its duration.

3) What is most stressful about change is the sense it creates of being powerless and without control. You can compensate. International travel in a developing country–and needing to pick up and move to a new hotel in a new city every few days–made me an extraordinarily neat packer. The unconscious or whatever it is that is taking note of things doesn’t know the difference between trivial and important forms of control. If your boss can change your assignment and schedule at a moment’s notice, start eating the same thing every day for breakfast. Or get obsessive about ironing your clothes. There is power and control to be had if you look.

I know how to adjust, and there will be birds where I’m going. I can do this.

The Interview

What I drink just to wake up.
What I drink just to wake up.

So, when I am usually drinking my 6 cups of tea and pondering ideas for blog posts, I was Skyping with four individuals half-way around the globe from me.

I do think it went rather well. With any luck, I did convince them that they should want me to teach in one of their schools, and I will find myself on their side of the world in a few months, teaching in a place that may or may not have regular electricity but that will have walls and benches in the classroom. Yippee!

Oh, and chalk and a blackboard. Also, big plusses….

At any rate, I enjoyed it. Which suggest to me either I’m nuts (a possibility) or it went well (hopefully also a possibility).

I’ve been watching a sitcom called Reggie Perrin and he has two young subordinates known as Ant and Ste who are comically enthusiastic. I believe it is Ste (and I may have it backwards here) who says about every new idea, “I am almost physically excited!” And then does an odd sort of fist pump after that.

I was almost physically excited. I may have, in fact, been physically excited by the interview.

You can catch the Ant/Ste/Reggie interaction at 6:18 or so.

Make of that what you will.

I was thinking about this last night, lying awake. Not the excitement, because I didn’t know about that part yet. But the job and the change it means for me.

But will she help me pack?
But will she help me pack?

I am not scared of the change, but I am sad. For many reasons really. I love this city. I have, after many years of holding myself at a distance from nearly everyone, friends I enjoy. I have colleagues that have become friends that I would like to keep seeing.

I cannot bring the cat with me. I do, in fact, expect her to drop dead any day now, but she is not actually dead. Or even very sick. She is just old. That kind of old and really keeping it together that people usually do drop dead suddenly in the midst of. “She always seemed so young!” we say at their funerals.

But she was 95.

Which, when I look at the age conversion charts in the vet’s office, is about where she is. Except cats have these really weird life spans–dying of age-related diseases at anywhere from 8 years to 30.

And it seems to me for the last week or so that I have pushed away that sadness, somewhat out of habit perhaps.

I'll miss this.
I’ll miss this.

I have had to make a number of very significant changes in my life over the years, some of them rather abrupt and sudden. It has often worked out that there was a moment when I needed to act, or at least it felt that way. And if I did not seize the moment, the opportunity to make the change would be lost.

Sometimes, the moment was about external circumstances–someone made an offer they aren’t going to make again. And sometimes it’s about state of mind. I was fed up enough, angry enough, brave enough that I had the energy for the change. And if I did not make the change, I risked letting the will to do so disappear.

So I sometimes feel afraid to let my trepidation, my sorrow about change rise to the surface. I’m afraid it will make me lose my nerve. Or even that managing the negative emotions will become so all consuming, I’ll be unable to do what I actually need to do from a practical standpoint to move forward.

I realize now it won’t though. I can have all of my feelings about this change.