Apologize a Little Less

Hello, lovely one.

If you were asked, “Why do you apologize?” you’d probably respond with something like, “I apologize because I did something wrong.”

Really?

I’d like to suggest that many of us apologize even when we’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and that some of our apologies are almost involuntary. Habit. You know how I know? I used to apologize incessantly.

There’s a joke about Canadians (well, there are a LOT of jokes about Canadians) that they will apologize to you even if you bump into them. It’s no joke. The pairing of Canadian citizenship with the circumstance of having been raised a girl results in the perfect Apologizing Machine.

On the evening of Valentine’s Day, I had a bad attack of vertigo (I have Benign Positional Vertigo) and my partner DP was very kind (as he always is) and helped me manage my dizziness and get comfortable. I found myself apologizing, repeatedly, for inconveniencing him. At some point, after I’d turned the corner of this episode and was starting to feel more like myself, I noticed how much I was apologizing that night. I had a bit of a laugh at myself as I know he loves me and wants to help and I know that I deserve that help.

At the same time, I also realized that this stream of apologies is not my pattern anymore. About five years ago, I made a conscious decision to apologize more selectively.

I’ll tell you my secret. When it comes to making apologies, I now approach the situation like a man. A kind man, but a man nevertheless. (To be clear, I have an excellent resident role model.) I want to benefit from the way that good men of my generation were socialized. Here’s my version of this:
I try my best to do the right thing.
Sometimes I get it wrong.
If I screw up, I apologize.
The other person is free to accept my apology or not but I’ve done my best.

Here’s my apologize-less list:
1. When someone else bumps into me.
2. When I’m in conversation with someone and they won’t allow any space for me so I have to interject in order to speak/be heard. I don’t apologize because I am not sorry for making space for myself. What I am is exhausted and less likely to have conversations with this person in the future. (Boundaries!)
3. This makes me super uncomfortable but I do it anyway: I don’t apologize for my opinions or for disagreeing with others. I learned this line from a male friend: “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” It’s not my job to agree with the other person or to find a way that our beliefs can line up. They may never align. It’s also not my job to make them feel better about the fact that we disagree or about how wrong I feel they are.
4. I don’t apologize for being a woman or for seeing the world from a woman’s perspective. I NEVER apologize for being a feminist. (If people are threatened by that term, I leave it to them to sort that out.)
5. I don’t apologize for being 30 seconds late ~ an amount of lateness that is not actually an inconvenience to people. Some of the things I was raised to believe are “polite” are just absurd.
6. I don’t apologize for anything that I cook. While the food may not be perfect, if I cooked for you then I REALLY LOVE YOU. Of course I note when a dish should be cooked a little longer or for less time or when I might use more seasoning but that doesn’t need to be a big production where I fall on my culinary sword.

To be clear, I am pro-apology when the situation warrants it; I don’t think anyone who knows me well would say that I am stingy with my apologies. This new approach leaves a lot of room for genuine apologies when I believe I have hurt, disappointed or inconvenienced someone. When I mess up, I say that I am sorry in a way that will be meaningful to both of us. I apologize and explain what happened from my perspective. If it’s appropriate, I also tell them how I’d like to make it up to them.

During these years of making fewer apologies, I’ve become more and more myself. I’ve become more authentic which, for me, means that I am the same person at home, at work and in social situations. I know that my impulse to over apologize comes from wanting to please others but there was a very real way in which I was apologizing for being. For being a person. For being alive.

This strikes me as really sad now. I’ve spent a lot of time being sorry about things that were not my place or my business to feel sorry about.

I suppose this makes me a little less lovely, a little less accommodating, a little less cheerful. Yup. I’ll proudly own that. The beautiful thing is that I’ve cleared some space around me to be a whole self.

What is your relationship with apologizing? Do you find yourself apologizing a lot? Do you like how it feels? What would you like to do next?

If you’re an over-apologizer, I encourage you to apologize less and live more.

Cheers,
Monna
xo

P.S. This was originally shared as a Sunday Reader. To receive these (now weekly) love letters directly in your mailbox, subscribe here. I’d love to send you these letters. xo
 

February Upgrades

Hello, lovelies.

Go ahead. Pull up your equivalent of this green velvet armchair we spotted at Ikea. Let’s chat. Today I’m sending you lots of love and five ideas for a February upgrade.

01. Think of a mundane task as a date
In August DP and I will be moving to the Japanese city of Karuizawa and we’ve recently learned that there are no closets in our apartment (!) so we need to sort out some storage solutions. On Saturday, after lunch, DP and I were chatting about this storage conundrum when he asked if I wanted to go to Ikea. To be clear, that’s not a quick trip. It’s two trains and a shuttle bus away from our apartment and it was definitely going to be busy at Ikea. Also, I’m not a very spontaneous person and this trip was not in my plan for the weekend. In that moment, I made a decision to think of this as a date and to say YES! We were out the door within 20 minutes. At Ikea we sat on about 50 different dining room chairs, earned the equivalent of a PhD in wardrobe configurations and I fell in love with the green velvet chair above (which we don’t need) and a gorgeous orange dresser (that we do need). DP bought me swedish meat balls for dinner and we held hands as we sat outside on the wooden bench waiting for the shuttle.

Your date doesn’t need to involve a partner; it could be a date with a friend or a date with yourself. The idea is simply to enjoy and savour the regular moments of our lives.

02. Replace “I have to” with “I’m going to” or “I get to”
Here’s the thing… the words we use matter. It’s so easy to get stuck in the energy of “I have to” ~ especially when you’re having a no-good, low-energy January, The trouble is that the yuckiness lurking below “I have to…” is kicking us in the ass, spiritually speaking. While it’s true that we do have obligations, they are mostly to people we love and who we’ve chosen ~ the people we gave birth to and the people who gave birth to us. So rather than saying, “I have to pick my kids up at school” you could try, “I’m going to pick my kids up at school.” This is such a small shift but it feels SO much better. When you’ve mastered “I’m going to”, try “I get to” for even more gold stars.

03. Buy yourself flowers
There’s no need to wait for someone else to give you flowers. In fact, that may not be how your people show that they love you. If fresh flowers would bring you joy, go ahead and decorate your office or your dining room table with a bouquet of floral loveliness. We have a friend here in Japan who has bought herself fresh cut flowers once a week for almost a decade; the joy she derives from the beauty and fragrance they bring to her home far outweighs the cost.

04. Throw yourself a Dance Party
According to this article dancing really is good for us.
Dancing ~
* raises the heart rate causing a release of feel-good endorphins into the bloodstream
* reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol
* helps us reconnect with our body
* frees up the body and allows it to move
* may produce an emotional release that’s cathartic – a letting go of pent-up emotions
* raises spatial awareness
* improves problem-solving skills after just five minutes of dancing (I could not make that up if I tried)

So have yourself a little dance party. Choose some tunes that make you happy and get your sexy groove on. I LOVE the opening credits to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 which is also a dance party.

05. Join us for Geography of Now (Note: This course has been cancelled)
A few days ago, a friend posted a photo of some light pink blossoms she spotted in Tokyo. I’m not sure what kind of blossoms they are. Possibly plum. It’s still too early for cherry blossoms but whatever they are, I felt a wonderful feeling in response to this photo. A kind of opening up.

That, I think, is the secret of Geography of Now. It helps everyone in the group open up creatively. There’s no place you’re supposed to be at the beginning of the course and no place you’re meant to be at the end. You’ll play and explore at your own speed in the company of other generous people.

If you’re craving an opening up… an opportunity to practice creativity, noticing and gratitude, this is your course.

Here’s the trip:
Week 1: Knowing yourself
Week 2: Noticing
Week 3: Photography
Week 4: Writing
Week 5: Gratitude + Skinny Prose
Week 6: Being at home where you are

“The Geography of Now course offers a daily dose of beauty and insight. The assignments are thoughtful and creative, with a little something for each participant’s inner poet and photographer. My favorite aspect of the course was that it gently encouraged me to get outside the box of my desk and computer monitor and to really look for beauty – in my prose, in my house, in my life, and in the people I love. Monna is an insightful teacher who gathers lovely people around her and encourages them to share. I highly recommend the class for anyone who is looking to jumpstart their creativity or just to explore their inner landscape.” ~ Mara Gorman, freelance writer and publisher of The Mother of all Trips, Delaware.

Note: This was originally shared as a Sunday Reader. To receive these love letters directly in your mailbox, subscribe here. I’d love to send you these letters. xo

Ideal Conditions for Thriving in Winter


 
January was a bit of a month.

I’m not even sure why it was rough. It could just be that it’s winter. Whatever the reason, I’ve been more emotional than normal (and, to be clear, I’m normally quite emotional) and I’m tired deep down in my bones. I suspect I’m not the only one.

The challenge has been to take good care of myself without completely hibernating… to nest while also continuing to grow.

I love metaphors. Like, I ADORE them. In these first days of February, I imagine myself as a tulip bulb buried eight inches below the surface and even though we’re in the deepest days of wintertime, I need to continue gathering all of my power for my emergence in Spring. I have faith that Spring will arrive and that means that I need to stay aware, curious, and focussed. At the very core of me, I need to stay green. I need to be ready to push when it’s time.

So I asked myself what conditions I could set in place in order to thrive.

Here’s my list for Winter 2018:
* Eight hours of sleep every night
* A cashmere sweater for both warmth and comfort
* Gentle conversations with Damien and as much laughter as possible
* A gentle soundtrack for my days: Kina Grannis, The Band Joseph, Joni Mitchell’s Blue
* Before I open my eyes each morning, I name the things for which I’m grateful
* The heated floor in our living room
* Saying yes to some work with the amazing teenagers at my former school
* Poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye, nayyirah waheed, Rumi and Mary Oliver
* Moving my body every day
* Looking at things from a new perspective
* Making lists of things to do and things NOT to do
* Writing {which is like breathing for me}
* Podcasts: Rob Bell; The Creative Penn; The CREATE Series
* Deep breaths with an emphasis on the exhale
* Leaving myself lots of time to do things well
* Revisiting Edinburgh + the Isle of Skye through memories and photos
* Upgrading tasks like washing the dishes by listening to music or podcasts
* Connecting with friends over coffee, Korean BBQ, Skype, FB and email
* No drama
* Preparing, little by little, for our move to Karuizawa
* Simplifying. Using less of almost everything.
* Yummy television: The Good Place, iZombie, and Orphan Black
* Declaring my priorities
* Eating more fruits and vegetables
* Doing things even though I’m afraid or anxious or not ready
* Putting my devices away at least an hour before bed
* Wearing bright pink lipstick {Really. It helps.}

I’m thinking good thoughts and looking forward to Spring.

What conditions would help you to have the best possible February? What could you say yes to? Or no to? Go ahead!

 
Note: This was originally shared as a Sunday Reader. To receive these love letters directly in your mailbox, subscribe here. I’d love to send you these letters. xo
 

When “why” is not helpful

So here’s the truth. I have not written any fiction during my gap year.

Non-fiction? Sure. Sunday Readers and entire courses… I’ve been absolutely prolific. But when it comes to my YA novel The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa, which is in its third draft, and After Everything which is only half-written… well, it’s crickets. Over the course of this school year I’ve distracted myself with a trip to Europe, three weeks in Nova Scotia, no fewer than four separate research obsessions and some spectacularly unproductive time on social media.

It’s a puzzle. I can’t say that I don’t have time. I do. I’ve never had this many hours a day that belong only to me.

So, of course, I wonder what the hell is happening. Am I paralyzed by the thought that it’s impossible to write the novel that lives in my head? Am I concerned that my work won’t be good enough to be published or that even if it is, the people in my life will whisper about how bad it is over tea and biscuits. Am I actually afraid to succeed?

One. None of these thoughts are helpful.
Two. I don’t know why I have NOT been writing when I REALLY want to write and the funny thing is that I’m a person who doesn’t normally hide from the truth about her life.

My energy has been really low this January; I feel like I’m hibernating. In the midst of this quiet time I read a post by coach Anna Kunnecke in which she wrote: “Consider January a time of gathering your powers.” Yes. I’ve been gathering my powers. Taking it slow. Then, a few days ago, I had a really interesting thought, a thought about which I’m still excited… what if the “why” doesn’t matter?

Yup. You read that right. What if the why doesn’t matter?

There are all kinds of things for which we never receive a satisfactory explanation. Why did a partner leave? Why did a beloved family member die? Why did a close friend stop returning our calls? These things are painful but even if we understood the reason, it probably wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m more interested in writing than I am in spending any more time trying to figure out why I’m not writing so I’ve decided to start asking myself “What next?” instead of “Why?”

What next?

  • I’ve decided not to embark on a radical re-write of The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa but to simply edit the novel to the best of my ability.
  • On Tuesday, I started a three-day editing retreat at a one-hundred-year-old house in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Hiro-o where I made my last set of edits to the novel.
  • When I’ve finished my edits, I’ll work with an editor and probably self-publish.
  • I’ve even chosen a pen name for my Young Adult novels that is easier to spell and pronounce than Monna McDiarmid: Mona McBride. {McBride is my mother’s maiden name and my cousin Mona McBride was a nurse in World War 2; I’m named after her.}
  • I’d like to publish before summer break and have a launch party in Tokyo… possibly at a diner that is the setting of a couple of scenes in the novel.
  • I’ve re-enrolled in the Coffee Shop Writers Group with Caroline Donahue for extra support and accountability.

I’m going to put this lovely story into the world and then I’m going to keep writing.

Is there anything in your life about which you could gently drop the why and get started on the what next?

I’m rooting for you, dear one.

 


This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these posts directly in your mailbox, every two weeks or so, you can subscribe here. I’d love for you to share this post with your tender-hearted, like-minded friends.

 

How to have the holiday you want: Part 2 ~ Practice your Boundaries

This is the second part of a two-part series about having the holiday you desire. You can read Part 1 here.


I’d like to suggest that this holiday can contain way more of what you love and less of what you loathe… and that you already have the power to make it so.

Step 3: Practice your Boundaries

One of the most powerful holiday-wreckers is the crazy/harmful stuff that some people in our lives believe they are allowed to say to us. {It’s not you… it’s them.}

Let’s imagine that you say no to an invitation. You’re feeling tired, or busy, or you’d like to spend more time with your family… or you know that what’s best for you is opting out of the toxic dynamics of a particular group of humans. Try this: “We won’t be joining you but thanks for thinking of us.” That is a complete sentence; both gracious and true. No further explanation is required. If you are not a person who has said no in the past, you’ll probably feel a bit guilty. That’s okay. The other person might pressure you into attending by saying something like, “You must come! It won’t be the same without you” to which you could simply smile and say, “Thank you.”

It’s true. People won’t like it. They might kick up a fuss. They might talk to their sisters or your sisters and speculate about the reasons why you’ve declined the invitation. The truth is that people who like to gossip were already gossiping about you… even when you went to that annual party that you dreaded… annually. What they think about you is not your business. Make a decision to stay in your own business where it’s calm… or whatever feeling you want to have.

Recently, a number of women have told me that they dread holiday gatherings because someone in their family feels entitled to pass loud, public judgment on their weight, appearance, relationship or job. Within the nuclear or extended family, this kind of “for your own good” talk may have become normalized and seem acceptable. But you get to decide what is acceptable for you. It can be incredibly challenging to speak up when this behaviour has been going on for years/decades but perhaps you are developing strength and skills that you didn’t have in the past.

Coach Susan Hyatt recommends using the line, “Why would you say something like that to me?” This puts the onus back on the person to explain themselves which they probably won’t be able to do. I also like a slight variation on this question: “Why do you feel/believe that you can say something like that to me?”

Of course, there’s a possibility that the person won’t get it… that they won’t understand how their words are offensive or hurtful to you OR they believe that you need to hear them for the good of your health/relationship/career. It’s time for you to try something more like, “I can’t allow you to say that to me anymore.” Be specific about what you don’t want them to say and tell them what will happen if they violate this boundary. You don’t have to tell them how their words makes you feel unless you want to.

Your inner lizard might be acting up like crazy right now… telling you that there’s no way you can stand up for yourself like that… that you’re not allowed… that it will make other people uncomfortable. These feelings are completely understandable and yes, you could absolutely choose to have this boundary conversation in private. You are the person who knows what is best for you. I have observed, however, that when you draw a boundary at a family gathering, other family members also learn what is and what is not okay for you. They might even learn how to do this for themselves.

However you move forward, please take action on behalf of yourself. Do for your own glorious self what you would done for a friend years ago. This person with his/her judgmental comments has probably been making you feel uncomfortable (and possibly in front of others) for a long time now. Isn’t it time to stop being polite?

So there it is.
1. How do you want to FEEL this holiday season?
2. Think about what specific activities, events and people would help you feel that way.
3. Draw boundaries with people who are disrespectful and unkind to you. It’s time.

I’m wishing you a very happy holiday filled with more of what lights you up.
 


This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these posts directly in your mailbox, every two weeks or so, you can subscribe here. I’d love for you to share this post with your tender-hearted, like-minded friends.
 

How to have the holiday you want: Part 1

Most of us experience a great deal of pressure to make the holidays AMAZING. And through a sort of collective amnesia, we also forget all the ways in which past holidays have been challenging, frustrating or even disappointing.

I’d like to suggest that this holiday can contain way more of what you love and less of what you loathe… and that you already have the power to make it so.

Step 1: Desired Feelings
Start by asking yourself, “How do I want to FEEL this holiday season?”
*Note: I learned this question from Danielle LaPorte’s work.

When I asked myself this question, I decided that want to feel:
* Peaceful
* Joyful
* Connection (to others and myself)

Step 2: Getting Specific
Once you’ve chosen HOW you want to feel, think about what specific activities, events and people would help you feel that way. In this step, we are employing our powers of discernment to choose both what we’d like to do and what we don’t want to do. We are choosing wisely.

Under each of your desired holiday feelings, make a list of specific things to do and NOT do. Note: You may want to include small turtle steps you’ll need to take to make an item on your list possible.

Here’s my list: {Note: DP is my partner.}

PEACEFUL:
* Create spaciousness. Not too many things in any one day.
* A cathedral of time on my own to dream about projects including my podcast
* No devices in our bedroom at night
* More quiet in the house + less music, television, podcasts that don’t feel special/meaningful
* 8 hours of sleep + early to bed
* No alarm clocks
* Fewer distractions: less email and social media
* No coaching or structured work during this three-week holiday
* Gift giving: only with DP and on a very small level
* Living this holiday entirely within our financial means
* At holiday meals, I’d like to be nicely full but not stuffed

JOYFUL:
* Loads of time with DP
* Talk to family and friends via phone/Skype/chat
* Sit by the fire (Learn how to use our wood stove + get a temperature gauge)
* Walks down to the Point in Blue Rocks
* Read
* Take photographs
* Read out loud to DP at night (Start with Harry Potter series)
* Have a Christmas tree in Nova Scotia
* Put up Christmas decorations in Nova Scotia + in our apartment in Japan
* Make a yummy meal on Christmas Day
* Watch films that make me happy (Family Stone; Arrival; Guardians of the Galaxy; About Time; La La Land; Moana; Salmon Fishing in the Yemen; Star Wars + Star Trek films)
* Christmas music in moderation (one member of my family enjoys it more than the other): Simply Christmas by Leslie Odom Jr. and White Christmas by Bing Crosby

CONNECTION (Others + Self):
* Give + receive love
* Social time with people we really enjoy
* Meet some interesting new people
* No to social obligations if we are tired or if they feel like work (Listen to my body)
* Christmas cards are completely optional
* Less time online
* Write in my journal

Our Christmas Rituals:
Last week, DP and I had a conversation over breakfast about the kind of Christmas rituals we’d like to observe and create this year. We decided that we’d like to make a traditional Christmas dinner which we’ve never done. We’ll spend Christmas and New Year in Nova Scotia where we have a large, sunny kitchen and an OVEN. {This is not the case in Japan.} In choosing our menu, we talked about the kinds of dishes our mothers prepared for Christmas dinner and, in the next few days, I’ll contact our moms and ask them for recipes so that we can make the most authentic versions of those dishes. When we get to Nova Scotia, we’ll buy a Christmas tree and decorate it ~ another thing we’ve never done. We decided to have our small gift exchange on Christmas morning, followed by a late pancake breakfast which will leave us the whole afternoon to make Christmas dinner at a leisurely, low-stress pace. We’ll attend a neighbour’s party on Christmas Eve and, on Boxing Day, we’ll go to the cinema in Bridgewater. On January 1st, we’ll have Chinese take-out which is a tradition from my father’s extended family. I actually started a Google doc to keep track of our plans and the preliminary steps we need to take before we can create those rituals.
 


Join me tomorrow for Part 2 of How to have the holiday you want.

This was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these posts directly in your mailbox, every two weeks or so, you can subscribe here.

I’d love for you to share this post with your tender-hearted, like-minded friends.
 

Befriend Yourself

When planning my gap year for grown-ups, I made a conscious decision to put myself in the way of as much beauty as possible. Paris. Florence. London. Edinburgh. Museums + galleries. Epic walks along historic rivers. Plays + play. Live music. Talks by writers. The luxury of time to write and think and create.

The thing I could not have predicted is how very much I’m also putting myself in the way of new challenges. And how much I’m growing.

As I shared in our Sunday Reader a month ago, I’m an anxious sort of bear. Regardless of how together I seem from the outside, it takes a lot of effort and courage for me to travel on my own, to learn new neighbourhoods, to navigate the metro and to fly solo.
Please know that I’m not complaining. I signed up for this and it is mostly glorious… but some of it is not. Actually, that seems like a pretty good description of life. Mostly glorious. Sometimes not.

Yesterday was a bit of a day, travel-wise. I flew from Charles de Gaulle in Paris to London Heathrow (neither of which are famously wonderful transportation hubs) and everywhere there was a line, it was long and filled with really angry travellers. At CDG, the wait at Customs was epic but I knew it would be so I had left myself lots of time. The people around me, however, were furious. The woman directly behind me was in a terrible hurry and, every time we took a step forward, she bumped into me with her suitcase. A man at the front of the line yelled at an airport employee who took a traveller in a wheelchair before him. I felt overwhelmed but there was nothing I could do. As I peeled off my sweater, I realized that I was starting to panic even though I knew I had lots of time to make my flight.

The first thing I did was to breathe. {Sometimes we forget.} I inhaled deeply through my nose and held that breath for about three seconds. Then I exhaled slowly through my mouth and relaxed my neck and shoulders. I breathed deeply, in this way, for a few minutes. Then I found a spot on the floor about ten feet away from me and just rested my gaze there. Gently. I continued to breathe and emptied my mind as much as I could. Of course, random thoughts popped up, and the sounds of Charles de Gaulle intruded from time, but I just let the thoughts and noises come and then go and I went on breathing. I meditated in the best way I could in the middle of the line at Customs.

After ten minutes, I felt calm. I was able to think more kindly about this woman behind me who might be feeling panicked about missing a flight and the man who lost his cool at the front of the line. It’s not like I gave them a hug or anything that dramatic, I just changed the way I was thinking. A few minutes later, I noticed that the woman behind me had stopped bumping into me.

I shit you not. It was magic.

By befriending myself first and then extending that circle of calm, I was able to make a situation that felt tough and jagged a bit better. Softer. Adopting an attitude of love and patience created more space in that line. {I love the word “spaciousness.”} It certainly felt like magic to me.

How could you befriend yourself today to create a little magic for yourself and the people in your life?
How would it feel to speak to yourself a little more gently? The next time you feel tempted to criticize yourself (I’m so stupid! | I never learn | How could I have forgotten this? | I’m so disorganized | This is all my fault), try to breathe and say something kind to yourself.

Try something like: “I know you’re feeling really frustrated right now. You are really doing your best though, aren’t you? And you love your family so much and you always want to do your very best for them. What do you need right now? Shall we sit for a minute? Shall we have a cup of tea?”

Have a cup of tea. Breathe. Befriend yourself. You can call it self compassion or kindness or even magic, if you wish. I promise it will help.
 
 
*This post was originally published as a Sunday Reader. To receive my love letters directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.