Through the Lens Thursday: Is It Time to Leave Japan?

It’s time to decide. In two weeks, I have to let my bosses know whether I want to extend my teaching contract in Japan for six months to a year.  Truth is, I both really want to leave and stay.

You can imagine all the usual reasons for wanting to call it quits — family, friends back home. I also want to make sure that in the next year I can travel a bit more. I feel this need in the center of my chest to get back to Montreal. Last time I was there, I was still so anxious about being alone that I cut my trip short by two days. I was there for a night, a visit to the market, and a gut-filling trip to La Banquise.

Whether my craving for the City of a Hundred Steeples or my want to get to Spain to finally take that hike along el Camino de Santiago, these are things I feel I must do before I head to graduate school in the fall of 2016. I’m just not quite done in Japan.

I can’t leave my kids yet. They’re growing and learning to speak English in a way I didn’t expect. With big staff changes at my school, I feel like I need to be there for the transition, at least for six months. My Japanese, too, is just reaching some semblance of fluency. If I leave now, just when things are getting good, what will have been the point of all this?

So, while so much of me wants to see other parts of the world, to spend lazy summers getting drunk on mom and dad’s patio — or at the wonderful Victoire in Rochester with friends — it’s just not the time. Montreal will still be there in another six months.

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Driven to Travel

Gearing up and studying for the upcoming trip to Spain has been equal parts exciting, stressful, and terrifying. The excitement is all too easy to describe, so I won’t bore you with the details. The fear is a mixture of irrational childhood phobia’s and fanged animals; the loss of new friends made in what I’m assured is supposed to be a lonely writer’s life; and, most sensibly, the fear of failure.  I have little doubt that as soon as I step foot in Madrid’s airport that the fears will dissipate, making them little more than temporary nuisances.

The stress comes from something else entirely: expectation. By and large, travelling remains this enjoyable thing you do when you want a vacation. Much as writing is perceived as a hobby more than a profession, to travel is to waste one’s life on frivolity. Life, we’re told, is meant for a 9 to 5 slow march towards retirement — a wife/husband, children. Yet every morning the Dremel carves my eyes open to view the same world, filled with the same problems, and the same disappointments. Where’s the exuberant bang, the fanfare playing me into the Ruins of Petra, the stifling dust kicked down my throat on a road through the dried heart of antiquity? Without a doubt, it’s somewhere beyond the keywords, the dungeon, and pauper’s paycheck.

Yes, even knowing that the rules of 1950’s America aren’t for me, I’m saddled with expectation. How do you look a parent in the eye who thinks you’re wasting your life, money, and opportunities to start a family? As far as I can tell, you do it with a smile. Just as they cannot understand a life undefined by salaried structure and outdated rules, I will never understand the need to fulfill the roles others have thrust upon me.

And so, I stuff my sleeping bag into my pack and hope I have enough water, food, and coin as I pull the straps tight around me. Only a fool would say with any certainty that the smell of the same “Bubbling Brook” laundry detergent, the acerbic feel of the same unrequited love, and the stress of the same work done ad nauseam won’t be missed, but they must certainly be left behind with the rest of the preordained. From now until Barcelona and beyond, the expectations I strive to reach are my own.