Tag Archives: Seasons

Cicadas, Typhoons and Gord Downie

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This week’s Sunday Reader was going to be about summer ~ about ways to live the entire year as though it’s still summer. It was a sunny little piece and the closer I got to publishing time, the more I realized that I wasn’t going to send it.

Seasons have been on my mind.

In Japan the cicadas are screech-singing at full volume. {This is the sound they make ~ like a million baby buzzsaws in training}. Recently a friend who’s lived in Japan for almost a decade said he finds the sound of the cicadas comforting. Me too. The arrival of the cicada-song in June signals the beginning of summer, a throwing off of order and routine. A loosening of strict rules. An expansion of spirit.

Mid-August in Yokohama is oppressively hot. Saturday was 28 degrees Celsius but the Weather Network reported that it felt like 43 degrees. The gap between what it was and how it felt is hard to wrap ones head around. I spend most of August in light cotton and slow motion.

Our school year is about to begin. The teachers have been back at work for a week but it always feels strange to be at school without kids. It’s not really a school without them. They are the essential ingredient… with their tans and their back-to-school hair cuts and their great yops of laughter and their insecurities and their epic curiosity. I’ll be so happy to see them tomorrow; to arrange my working life around the wild trajectory of their growing up and becoming.

On Sunday morning DP and I, still in our jammies, livestreamed The Tragically Hip’s final concert from Kingston, the city where we we went to university and where we met 22 years ago. The Tragically Hip are for Canadians like I imagine Bruce Springsteen is for Americans. Gord Downie, The Hip’s lead singer, is our unofficial Poet Laureate; I read that 40 per cent of Canadians say that they learned more Canadian history from Tragically Hip songs than they did in school.

Gord Downie is dying. He’s battling glioblastoma, an incurable and aggressive form of brain cancer. On Saturday night (Sunday morning in Japan), all across the world, Canadians gathered in living rooms and bars and on beaches and in town squares to say good-bye. To wish him God-speed on his journey. To say thank you for all his shimmering words. We also gathered to remember our own youth… to celebrate the nights The Hip played on the cd player while we danced and fell more deeply in love with our boyfriend, with our entire group of friends, with life itself.

In their song Ahead by a Century, Gord sings:
First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life.

No dress rehearsal. This is our life.

Tropical Storm Mindulle spent the night barreling across the Pacific towards us in Yokohama and Tokyo. It’s not personal ~ this is what typhoons do. It’s not helpful to expect a typhoon to act differently than typhoons act. Yesterday afternoon, as it became clear that we were in the typhoon’s path, we bought several days’ worth of groceries: eggs, bread, veggies, fruit. Sensible storm-groceries. It was after 11 o’clock last night when I realised that I’d forgotten to buy milk; there wasn’t another person on the sidewalk or another customer in the convenience store. Typhoons are a beautiful and devastating reminder that humans are not in charge.

As I write this, the typhoon is assembling itself from sideways rain and sea water and hot wind and it’s blowing itself onto the land like a greedy monster, all reaching and pulling. Soon, it will announce itself through the rattling of the glass doors to our balcony and the sound the screened doors will make as they slide and bang back and forth in their tracks. From our 22nd floor apartment, we’ll watch the typhoon like a production. Extreme Weather Opera.

Last night, Mount Fuji was astonishing; perhaps she was getting ready for her date with the storm. We haven’t seen her clearly in a couple of months but last night she emerged majestic in blue-grey and the sun set orange and purple, all in awe around her.

The Japanese staff at our school tell us that Autumn will arrive on the 23rd of September… that the heat will break that day. They are always right. A cool wind will blow in off the Pacific and we will dig out our sweaters and jeans. Summer will slip away, storing itself inside some bright pocket at the back of our mind.

Everything has its own season. School. Summer. Typhoons. They come and then they go. We get ourselves into trouble when we hold too tight to things whose season is over… when we try to keep that which needs to go.

Part of living fully is learning to let go.

Is there something you need to let go?

Do you know what’s stopping you?


P.S. This was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox every two weeks, you can subscribe here.

September 22nd

{Photograph by Damien Pitter}

Autumn will arrive on September 22nd.

This is how I imagine it happened
although I wasn’t there
to hear it.

Summer in Yokohama
sizzles like the tropics.
Temperatures soar and
unable to store their furry coats
as we do
and pray for rain.
Even the Japanese
move slowly,
the women protected
from the sun
by designer umbrellas.

Public pools heave,
a hornets’ nest
of children
and laugh
and do do not think
of Autumn.
They live
entire liftetimes
in each turquoise

Autumn will arrive on September 22nd.
The Japanese know things like this.
The exact day on which
humidity will lift
and temperatures will fall
like seagulls
diving towards the bay.

Japanese trains
always arrive on time
and so will


A shaking off
of angel wings
that began to grow
in summer.

We store away
our childish dreams
of play
to concentrate on
serious matters.
and work.

We grieve
and get on with it.

When Europeans first arrived
in the inhospitable wilds
of Canada,
the fruits and vegetables of
their autumn labour
ensured their survival.
I exist because
my ancestors knew
how to
get to

When a cool breeze
brings my colleague’s words
to life
on September 22nd,
I’m not surprised.
One season leads
to the next
and Harvest must begin.
As the pools are closed
by public decree,
mothers tuck away swim suits
and pull out sweaters and jackets.

Autumn will arrive on September 22nd.

A few days later
just to show she’s still in charge
Mother Nature sends us
several days of stinking hot.
not even Japan
gets to boss her around.

{friday poem}

it’s about wearing my winter coat
for the first time
in yokohama,
the feeling of encountering elastic
on the insides of cuffs
designed to keep my warm air in
and the cold air out.
(i’d forgotten that they do that.)
*note to self: always buy winter coats
in canada.

it’s about giving some students
a tiny talk on monday morning,
some thoughts about respect
and responsibility
and how not to succumb
to their lesser demons.
and how some of them
have come to say,
“i’m sorry for messing around.
i know i can do better.
did you hear i got accepted?”

it’s about conflict
and miscommunication
and vulnerability.
it’s about being able to say,
“i was wrong
and i’m sorry”
and how this often
leaves two angry people

these are important muscles.
they don’t get stretched enough.

it’s about getting sad news
and glad tidings
and how they inhabit the same space
and sometimes you feel
like you can’t hold it all
but you can
because that’s what you do,
after all,
for a living
and because that’s what people do
for each other.

this is a friday poem
about flipping my hood
against the cold wind
and a hard week
as my sweet man
snaps this shot.

International Teaching: Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s early February and conversations in the teachers’ lounge at my international school are punctuated with questions such as, “Did you hear who is leaving?” and “Have you decided to stay?” Often these questions are whispered as it’s difficult to know which teachers have gone public with their plans and who is still mulling things over.

This is true at international schools the world over as Directors and Principals ask staff members to declare their intentions for the following school year… and teachers squirm with discomfort at having to make this decision (yet) again.

Should I stay or should I go?

This is my third international placement over a period of 15 years so I have been down this road before. I have made dates with my international teaching destiny and then cancelled them, shaken by the mythic struggle with my unseen future. I remember only too well the lists of pros and cons I have generated… the lists that never seemed to add up to a satisfying answer.

In the end, regardless of how difficult this decision may prove, one must answer the question. While it’s true that doing nothing is a decision, a kind of crazily passive action, it’s not one I feel very comfortable with. Here are the questions I ask of myself:


  • If you are at the beginning of your career, have you had at least two years of experience in the role that you will be applying for?
  • In your current job, are you learning an enormous amount about teaching in your subject area, classroom management etc.? Are you, in short, becoming a better teacher at this school?
  • Do you have a mentor (Department Head, Team Leader or colleague) who is helping you learn and grow?
  • Would you like to have a year in which you simply live and teach in your current location? (This is impossible if you stay only 2 years because you are either arriving or leaving)
  • Is your administrative team supportive of you professionally and personally?
  • Do you have great opportunities for professional development? (Workshops and conferences, access to a Masters program, and in-house PD)
  • Is the school environment a positive and healthy one where staff members are encouraged to provide constructive criticism about the school?
  • Are other staff members and administration open to change that is good for kids?
  • Are there opportunities for you to take on new roles (such as Team Leader, Department Head, or administration) at this school?
  • Do you feel that you make a difference in the lives of students and staff at your current school?
  • Do people express their appreciation for your work and contribution?
  • Are you in favour of the direction in which your school is headed in terms of curriculum, scheduling, technology integration and professional development?


  • Are you happy with the quality of life in your current city? Quality of life considerations vary considerably from person to person but may include factors such as: climate, pollution, violent crime, economy (including factors such as taxation rate and local currency in relation to your home currency), and political stability
  • Do you have access to the activities that are central to your happiness and well-being (for example, cultural events or outdoor activities)?
  • Do you have a circle of close friends that are the same quality of kindred-spirits you would have chosen if you were still living in your home country?
  • In terms of your financial package, are you able to live well, travel and meet financial obligations?
  • Is your financial package keeping up with local cost of living increases?
  • Is housing included in your package? If not, have rental prices increased?
  • Have you been able to save for goals such as retirement or buying a home?
  • Does the financial crisis make staying a better option for you? (Changing schools can be quite costly.)
  • If you have a partner, is this person fulfilled in his/her work? (Ditto for your children. Is this a good place for them to grow up and study?)
  • How much time do you spend commuting to and from your school? Is this an acceptable amount of time?
  • Are you tired of moving countries? (Packing up apartments, changing health insurance, learning a new language) or does the thought of this continue to excite you?
  • Do you have enough money saved for a move to a new gig?
  • Do you have ageing parents or situations at home that demand your presence in your home country/city?
  • Can you imagine yourself living in this city permanently? Could this be “home”?
  • If you decide to leave the school, what are the things that you would miss most? Make a list.
  • Is it time for a change? Is it time for a new culture/language?
  • Do you miss your home culture enough that it is simply time to move “home” regardless of how good this school/city are?


  • Is it possible to find a new job without attending a recruitment fair?
  • How much would attending a fair cost? Is that an acceptable amount?
  • Have I fulfilled my teaching contract?

International educators, please add your guiding questions in the comments section.

And what did I decide? Stay tuned!

Addition: 29th October 2017
If I wrote this article today I would add a couple of things:

  • One item on your Pro list may be worth 10 on your Con list.
  • Pay attention to how your body feels.
  • Sometimes money is really important and sometimes it’s not.
  • Life has seasons. What season are you in now and what would suit you best?
  • Life is short. If it’s time to move on or move “home” or go to a place where you can meet a romantic partner, get going.

Best wishes with your decision.