Author: Monna McDiarmid

My blogs:

Love, Yokohama: Jun Sekiya

Love, Yokohama is my photographic love letter to the city we have called home for the past three years. The concept is a simple one. Each week I’ll ask a student, colleague or friend to meet me at their favourite place in Yokohama… and I’ll take their photograph. These visual love letters will be posted each Friday.

Photographed on Sunday 17 August 2014
at Yamashita Park, Yokohama

Jun + 2 guys

Jun Wide 1

Jun Medium Bike Cut Off

by Jun Sekiya

a long time ago
I rode mountain bikes in the city
because I was afraid
of not looking mature.

“This t-shirt won’t do.
This faux hawk won’t do.
This music won’t do.
I can do much better.”

a while after that
my friends stole my bike
and painted its blue frame red with a can
on my birthday
when I was on a date
with My new dress shirt
My new hairstyle
My new music—

maybe I needed that.

maybe I needed to care less about thoughts
the ones that
nag, like, “You look like you’re twelve.”
“You’re short.”
“You’re timid.”
“You’re caught in yourself.”
“I need to care less”
began to nag me in turn.

it’s all psyching out,
Thoughts, wrapped in Thoughts, wrapped in Thoughts, wrapped in
I put on a song
as I rode my new bike
—my mom’s bike—
through Yamashita Park.

I glide past the sign
that says “no bikes”
there’s a couple looks
But for this I’m sorry

Because the sky is too deep
and the sun is too yellow
to not bike this strip
that nudges the sea.

There’s people
and space
between them
to weave through.
There’s iPods
and earphones
to make them
a soundtrack.

This song I’m listening to
This song This song
is the best song I’ve ever heard
right now.

My head is flooded
My mouth is lifting
I’m flushed with courage
I’m taller than the park
I’m rushing
through the air

In the big picture
it’s a guy on his bike
rapping too loudly to a soundless beat.
In the big picture
the music won’t do
just like the t-shirt and that cringey faux hawk.

But in the close up
the one with the music
the one where the girls who see it all swoon
the t-shirt is dope
the faux hawk, I’ll rock it
I’m rock and roll
I’m hip hop
The music’s a plow
And this bike, my mom’s bike, will push all my

and nerves
and heartaches
and awkward handshakes


Jun Close

Jun Sekiya
Wicked smart boy-man.
Film-maker. Writer. Rapper.
Runner. Football player.
(By which we mean soccer,
of course.)
+ Cuban-American
= courteous rebel.
Metaphysical bad ass
grooves at the intersection
of passion
and discipline,
freestyles the first line
of a new tune.
Best one yet.

You can see more photographs of Jun and his mythic ride on my Instagram feed here.

What’s your casserole?

chicken pot pie

As a child, I was curious. About everything. {Actually, that hasn’t changed.}

I remember my mom making a casserole, some sort of meat loaf concoction, and I was salivating and she said it wasn’t for us. Now that was a puzzle. I grabbed the tall stool from under the black rotary phone mounted on the wall and sat across from her at the kitchen counter.

“So who is it for, then?” I tried to conceal my disappointment.

She explained that the mother of a neighbour had died and that when a person is grieving, it’s hard to have the energy to cook a meal for yourself. If someone else makes the food, all you have to do is put it on a plate and eat. That’s how you get through the first few days of losing someone… by having others care for you until you can begin to care for yourself again.

My family has given, and received, many casseroles over the years and I have come to a much deeper understanding of this kind of compassion which is, I think, rooted in community. Being a member of a community.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how DP and I take care of others. Casseroles are tricky. We are not great chefs; in fact we don’t even have an oven. And our community is spread over at least twenty different countries on six continents.

But still we send out love. Instagram photo-walks for the birthdays of friends. Emails and facebook messages of support and re-assurance. It will be okay. This too shall pass. You can do this. Thank you notes. Lending books and DVDs. Sharing the news of a new favourite bakery, restaurant, gallery. Buying dinner for former students just starting out. Hugs. DP is a particularly good hugger; just ask my Mom. Travel recommendations. Even this blog is a love letter to friends… some of whom I’ve not yet met. Listening. Really listening.

What’s your casserole? How do you love and care for the people in your life?

Love, Yokohama: Bobby Yoshinami-Hitachi

Love, Yokohama is my photographic love letter to the city we have called home for the past three years. The concept is a simple one. Each week I’ll ask a student, colleague or friend to meet me at their favourite place in Yokohama… and I’ll take their photograph. These visual love letters will be posted each Friday.

Photographed on Friday 15 August 2014
at Yamate Koen (Yamate Park)

Bobby Wide Big Trees

Bobby Gazebo

Bobby Camera

Bobby said it would take
just ten minutes
to walk from school
to Yamate Koen.
It took twenty.
It was worth it.

Yamate Koen is a park
now best known for tennis courts.
It was built in 1870
by foreigners for foreigners
at a time when they {we} were
entirely welcome.

For 80 years
the foreigners gathered for
picnics, parties, and fund raisers.
Dog shows, flower shows, and dancing.
For 80 years
there were only foreigners.
In 1950, Yamate Koen
opened its gates to everyone,
became Japan’s first public park.

As we walk into the park,
we pass under
immense Himalayan cedars.
It feels suddenly cooler.
Bobby points out
which trees
with cherry blossoms
in the spring.

A path leads
to the wooden clubhouse
and tennis courts.
Bobby would have liked
to have lived
in the early days
of this park.
He’s seen photos
in the Station at Motomachi-Chukagai
and is fascinated
by what has changed
and what has not.

The path curves
and we come upon
a small white gazebo.
We time travel
140 years
into the past.

Bobby has never noticed
the breeze here

Later, he tells me
there’s another reason
this is his favourite spot.
As a student in Japanese kindergarten
he used to visit the park
every week or two.
He would play tag
and climb trees
with all his friends.
Since moving to our international school
he lost contact with the park.
Years passed.
He rediscovered the park
while walking his dog
two years ago.
It felt much smaller.
Coming back to the park
as an older self
he’s learned to appreciate
not only its beauty
but also its history.

As we left the park
Bobby said
he will miss the cicadas.

Bobby Bio Pic

When calm minds and warm hearts are required, we call Bobby. He’s an old soul but still capable of wonderful mischief. My favourite thing I ever heard him say was, “There’s a time and a place.” Even when he disagrees with you, he does so with respect. Bobby just graduated from high school and is taking a gap year… so he’s in between things but he’s chill. Some day he will be an amazing teacher. {Or chef.}

You can see more photographs of Bobby and Yamate Koen on my Instagram feed.

A Walk with Instagram + Love


It was six o’clock
in the evening.
I was in Shimoda
and DP was in Yokohama.

Just me and my iPhone
as the day’s light
also barefoot through
the celestial spectrum.
Yellow. Golden. Blue.

At Ohama Beach
I chased the light
and the surfers
that ran for the water.

The first processed shot
hit my feed
like a stone.
A photo
from DP emerged
from Instagam ripples.
He too was photo-walking,
collecting Minato-Mirai
moments like butterflies
for his two best friends
from high school
who happen to share a birthday.
Every year,
on their day,
he takes photos
wherever we are
to celebrate them.
His Geography of Birthdays.

For forty Instagram minutes
our twin walks unfolded.
Me: A woman in a purple sweater walks her sand-coloured dog.
Him: A couple walks into a burst of sunset at Sakuragicho Station.
When DPs red heart
popped up below my blurry shot,
it was the truest like of all.

because all things change,
the light
in his
in mine.

The end of the day
tugged at me
and said,
“It’s time to head back.”

I want to hold onto the light
a little longer
and the feeling of walking
on the beach
with my love.















** Damien Pitter curated this collection of photos from my Shimoda photography walk.

*** Registration is now open for the Geography of Now eCourse. :)

Launch: Geography of Now eCourse

Yokohama GON {Yamashita Park, Yokohama Japan}

Most of us find it pretty easy to admire the greenness of the grass elsewhere. We tell ourselves pretty little stories about how perfect our lives would be if only we lived in another house or neighbourhood or country… if we had different or better stuff. The truth is that we already have everything we need to have a good life.

Exactly where we are.

I’ve always been attracted to place. When I was in grad school, I travelled by bus to Toronto to visit a friend. My heart had been recently broken and my friend was a generous and comforting sort so I accepted his invitation to stay for a while.

So I’m on this Greyhound bus and it’s night-time and the streets of Toronto are much better lit than those of Kingston, where I was living at the time, and I can see a couple standing under a streetlight talking and smoking. Although I don’t smoke, I admire the grace with which the woman reaches over and lights the man’s cigarette with her lighter. With just one hand. The glowing red end of his cigarette moves like drunken fireflies. And I’m wearing headphones and listening to some seriously sad-ass, broken-hearted love songs and I feel so affected by the scenes I witness as we drive through Toronto that I pull out my journal and start writing a poem. I still have it.

And the thing is, I did not have a particularly strong attachment to Toronto. I’m from Ottawa and grew up hearing Toronto referred to as, “That EVIL city.” (Totally true story.)

But that night, on the bus, I let myself feel connected to the people of the city and to the city itself.

Since I began blogging in 2006, much of my writing has been an attempt to describe my connection with the places I have lived. Cali, Colombia. Monterrey, Mexico. Barcelona, Spain. Bangkok, Thailand. Yokohama, Japan.

Whether I am travelling or staying put, I like to make myself at home. I like to unpack, nest, and get well acquainted with my surroundings. In my daily life in Japan I don’t wander very far from home but the ten blocks that surround our apartment have become my my playground, my entire world. I am ridiculously in love with our little corner of Yokohama.

About six months after we moved to Japan, I started writing some of my blog posts in free verse which I came to call “skinny prose”. I like the way that the short lines and the musicality convey my feelings better than paragraphing it.

And I adopted Instagram as my way of photographically documenting the places I loved.

These little skinny prose pieces and the photos that accompany them help me work out my feelings about where I live. They help me understand this relationship to a country that is on the other side of the planet from where I grew up… and they help me feel securely attached to my new home.

The posts I write about place are contemplations. And little prayers of thanks.

I want that for other people.

And I know that it’s hard to imagine taking the time to slow down and notice what’s happening in your own neighbourhood. We are busy folks. We have long lists of things to do and people who depend on us.

I get that. {Me too.}

But take a walk with me. Look over there. Who has painted their mailbox purple… and why? One of your neighbours has a new pug that sits on the back of an emerald green velvet sofa and waves at you through the living room window. (At least it looks like it’s waving.) There’s a new restaurant opening in the space where you used to rent videos. You take a moment to admire the pink roses that grow for a few short weeks in the lot beside the grocery store and you wonder how they got there and who tends them.

This is your corner of the world. These are your people.

The Geography of Now is about this. It’s about waving back to that pug. It’s about eating at that new restaurant and telling your friends about how amazing their grilled cheese sandwich was. It’s about being curious while staying out of judgement.

The Geography of Now is about…

Observe the place where you live through a new kind of lens. See with a more relaxed and compassionate perspective.

Document what you see through photographs taken with a simple point and shoot camera or with your phone. Click.

Record some words. Express how a particular image made you feel… or the memory it awakens like some ancient sleeping giant in your mind.

Notice the details of your life (like really, really noticing… not just noticing that you are out of milk) and feel grateful for the places and people that surround you. Those that love you and help define you.

It may have been a long time since you wrote something creative and you might feel frightened. You’ll need to summon your courage.

I’m inviting you to take this leap with me.


Start date: Monday, 15 September

Duration: The course will run for six weeks, from Monday 15 September until Friday 24 October. Please note that messages will arrive on weekdays only.

Format: You will receive a message in your inbox every day. The daily message will include a reflection as well as a photography/noticing/writing/gratitude prompt.

How much time you will need a day: 20-30 minutes although you may choose to spend less time… or more. It’s completely up to you.

What you will need for the course:

  • Computer with internet (for accessing the course and downloading your photos)
  • Point and shoot camera or cell phone camera
  • Journal and pen (I like one small enough that I can carry it with me at all times)
  • Facebook account. Note: we will share some of our work with each other in a private Facebook group. This means that no one who is not enrolled in the course will be able to see your photos, your writing or your comments.


  • Knowing yourself
  • Photography
  • Noticing
  • Writing Skinny Prose
  • Gratitude
  • A final project of your choosing

Cost: 50 Canadian Dollars

Payment: You will be using Pay Pal to purchase this course. Please not that you do not have to have a PayPal account as you can pay with a credit card.

Refund policy: This is a non-refundable investment in yourself, your photography and your writing.

A note about receiving my messages:
The Geography of Now course and my newsletters are sent by me via Mad Mimi. If you have never received an email from me before, the message may end up in your Spam folder. You can resolve this by making me (monnamcd at gmail dot com) a contact in your email or checking your spam folder. Thanks!

Registration is now open here.

Love, Yokohama: Hiyori Takashima

Love, Yokohama is my photographic love letter to the city we have called home for the past three years. The concept is a simple one. Each week I’ll ask a student, colleague or friend to meet me at their favourite place in Yokohama… and I’ll take their photograph. These visual love letters will be posted each Friday.

Photographed on Thursday 14 August 2014
on the green hill behind the Yokohama Port Museum

Hill 1
Hill 2 Medium

This lush green hill
is one of the first places
Hiyori’s new friends brought her
when she moved back to Japan.
From this hill you can see
all the best parts of Minato-Mirai:
the tall ship and Landmark Tower
the harbour
the bridge to World Porters
and ferris wheel
stretch out ahead.
{This particular ferris wheel
is like a lighthouse.
If you can see it,
you know where you are
and exactly what time it is.}
For Hiyori,
the green hill is a beautiful place
for her group of friends,
it’s a favourite hang-out.
Although they see each other
every day
at school,
this is the place
they often
their secrets.

Hiyori 3 Close up
Hiyori Takashima graduated from high school in June and departs for NYU London in just one week. Hiyori is loveliness itself. Wise and gracious beyond her years, she acts and sings, and writes amazing thank you letters.

You can see more photographs of Hiyori and her green hill on my Instagram feed here.

The Story Intensive + Meeting Momoko


Sarah Selecky is a Canadian writer. She wrote a collection of short stories called This Cake is for the Party. {It was shortlisted for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize if you follow that kind of thing. It’s a big deal in Canucklandia.} She is currently working on a novel featuring a character from one of her stories.

Sarah has also created an online writing school that I adore. The course itself is called Story is a State of Mind and if you are a particularly disciplined sort, you can work through the modules on your own. I suspect that most of us find this kind of self-directedness pretty challenging which makes The Story Intensive very good news!

In 2012, I purchased Story is a State of Mind and enrolled in the Story Intensive which was still in its infancy. The Intensive is set up much like an MFA workshop in that you work with a tutor and a group of fellow-writers. Writers work through the course material, readings and exercises individually and then share excerpts of their writing with each other for feedback. The environment in the virtual classroom is positive and supportive. I appreciate the deadlines and the structure of the program. I particularly like being accountable to my writing peers each week; in my world, that’s how things get done.

As I was making my way through the exercises, I met a fictional character named Momoko. I say met… because that’s how it felt… but, of course, I created her. I wrote her into existence. Momoko is not a version of someone I have met in the real world or even a composite of different people. She is her own unique constellation of characteristics, dreams and actions. In some ways, she is quite a traditional person but then, at times, she isn’t. She is lovely and charming and she keeps growing which is what real people do. Ever since I first wrote about her three years ago, she has been the star of my fiction-writing show.

There are now thirteen Momoko stories.  A baker’s dozen. The collected stories are starting to take shape, to organize themselves into a larger story arc. One woman’s story. I can’t wait to see {write} what will happen next.

Here’s the thing… although I have been blogging since 2006, I had not written any fiction since graduate school. The Story Intensive, in which I have enrolled for a third time, brought me back to my own fiction-writing and allowed me to create Momoko and the rich world she inhabits.

Thank you, Sarah! xo

{You can enroll in The Story Intensive here until Friday 15 August and the course starts on September 1st. The Story Intensive is a great gift to yourself.}