Author Archives: Monna McDiarmid

My blogs: http://monnamcdiarmid.com/

Confidence Manifesto for Girls


 
1. Think of a person who loves you unconditionally. Love yourself like that.
Think about a person who doesn’t care how you dress or what grade you got on your most recent Math test. This person thinks you are amazing exactly the way you are. They let you be sad or happy or quiet without judging you or asking you to change. Do you feel the way they love you? Good! Now practice feeling that way about yourself.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Need some help? Turn off the television. Log out of facebook. Unplug. Stop reading fashion magazines… they’re designed to make you feel inadequate so you’ll spend money on just about anything to make yourself look and feel better. Never (ever) utter the phrase, “Out of my league” about the boy or girl you like. Leagues are for sports not for dating.

3. Flex your super power.
What do you do better than anyone else? (If you’re not sure, ask a friend.) Take a moment to feel proud of yourself. Now, go out into the world and do good with your power. Become a superhero.

4. Be vulnerable.
Take risks. Open your heart. Make mistakes. Perfection is a bad goal.

5. Treat your body with respect.
Love your body. Whatever your body looks like, it is an extraordinary machine that allows you to do amazing things. When you go on vacation, it’s your body that takes you there. Eat well. Drink more water. Move. Get enough sleep. Insist that other people respect your body too.

6. Try new activities.
Have you ever wanted to audition for the school play or try paint ball… but you were too afraid? It’s okay. Be afraid… and go ahead anyway! Try out that new hobby, sport, or creative activity. How do you know what you’ll enjoy, or even excel at, if you never try?

7. Be careful with your words.
Stop gossiping. (It’s toxic… don’t be that girl!) When you love and support other girls, it’s way easier to stop comparing and competing. Be more cautious about what you share with other people. When you’re angry, count to ten before speaking; stop a bad situation from getting worse.

8. Stand for something.
Make a list of ten things you believe in. How will you support those ideas & causes? Take action now.

9. Dream big.
What are you passionate about doing? Pursue that thing even if you’re not good at it yet. Develop goals and work hard to achieve them. Find ways to feel proud of yourself even if others don’t understand your dream.

10. Hang out with people who like and inspire you.
Real friends get how amazing you are. They ask you how your day was and try to comfort you when you feel sad. They tell the truth even when the truth is hard to hear. They make you want to be a better person. If your friends don’t make you feel good about yourself, they’re not really your friends.

11. Practice joy.
Celebrate! Be happy for yourself and others. Play! If you’ve forgotten how, spend some time with little kids. Dance! It helps lighten any mood, is great exercise and helps you get out of your head.

12. Stand up for yourself.
Find your voice and use it. Stop apologizing for yourself and say what you really mean. When you are struggling or hurting, talk to someone you trust.

 

Join me in the Geography of Now


 

Hello, lovely one.

Two years ago I created my first online course, Geography of Now. I’ve decided to run it one last time this Spring.

Geography of Now is six weeks in length and will run from Monday April 10th until Friday May 19th. Every weekday you’ll receive, via email, a lesson along with a photography or writing prompt. It’s completely up to you to decide which ones you’d like to complete; you’ll find the pace that’s best for you. All you need is the camera in your phone (or a fancier one if you wish) and your favourite combination of writing implements: journal/pen or computer. We’ll have a secret + private Facebook group where people can share their photos and writing + comment on the work of your classmates if you’d like. My very favourite thing about both Geography of Now and Poet Laureate is the community created by the people in the course. The cost of the course is 75 USD.

If you’ve been itching for a CREATIVE PROJECT,
if you’ve been feeling a little blah and need an INJECTION OF JOY,
or if you want to spend more time NOTICING and FEELING GRATEFUL,
this would be a lovely course for you.

This will be the last time I’ll run the course in this way. It may be available as a self-study but I think the magic of this program is in the alchemy the participants and I create in our shared space on Facebook.

Pop on over here to learn more about the course + sign up.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the course.

Cheers,
Monna
xo
 

Variations on The Word Should

WORDS.

I love words.

I suspect that you do as well and that’s one of the reasons that you’re here. I live for those rare gossamer moments when words flow out of me as if directed by some invisible conductor. My muse or tiny conductor or whatever she is doesn’t stop by that often but I keep writing anyway and, little by little, my writing improves and my words reach more people and, even in her absence, people tell me that those words make a difference to them. That’s another kind of magic.

As a bookish girl growing up round and introverted in the Ottawa Valley, I saw + felt that words had power. Words designed to put people in their place. Words that included some and excluded others. {So many words that excluded girls and women.} Words that tore people down. Fat. Lazy. Know-it-all.

{Ouch.}

As I grew older. I began my Sacred Odyssey to read ALL the books. Through conversations with kindred-spirit-nerd-girls and with supportive teachers and librarians, I encountered more words that elevated people. Words that inspired and ignited. Faithfully, I collected these words in spiral bound notebooks from K-Mart; at first I kept the words in lists and then I got brave and tried out various combinations in poems and short stories. As an undergraduate student of English Literature, I learned the intricate history of words and I began to understand the blue-green sea-bottom of this language I’d been given.

ALWAYS. NEVER.

As a writer, educator and coach, there are some words that I’m choosing to use less. I’ve talked a bit here about “always” and “never”. My experience is that those words are short cuts designed for the sake of emphasis but that they rarely describe a situation fully. This is not about semantics for me… it’s about expressing the complicated truth of being human.

I can’t think of anything that I always do. I love to sleep until 7:00 a.m. {and I mean that’s a strong preference) but sometimes I get up at 5:00 a.m. ~ to travel, because I can’t sleep, or because I want to watch the sun rise. Sometimes I desire the rising sun more than the warmth of my bed. So these words, always and never, they feel too easy and not quite true. For me, the biggest problem with always and never is that they sometimes create unhelpful thoughts about myself or someone else. Always and never become limits. Boundaries. Occasionally they are declarations of war. (See: “I would NEVER do that to him!”)

Honestly, I prefer the soft shoulder of “I have not yet published a book but I’m working on it,” “I try to get to sleep by 11:00 p.m. as often as possible,” and “I’m committed to loving and respecting the people in my life.”

SHOULD.

That’s the word that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Every time I use the word should about myself or someone else, I sentence myself to a little bit of suffering. {Sometimes it’s a lot of suffering.} I’m starting to see most of that suffering as completely unnecessary.

Here are some shoulds I’ve had recently:
* “He should give up his seat on the train for that elderly woman.”
* “She shouldn’t be wearing that outfit that doesn’t flatter her body.”
* “That woman in Starbucks should not be speaking so loudly on her phone.” {Yup. True story… as I was writing this piece.}
Please be clear that I am a big fan of establishing good boundaries and teaching other people how to treat me but many of my shoulds are old ghosts from my childhood, from the time when I believed that there was a right way and a wrong way to do things.

This is the worst should of all: “I should have done it differently.”

Here’s the thing. I didn’t do it differently. I did it exactly the way I did it.

So rather than beating myself up… rather than focussing on the ways I should be better or more __________ (fill in in the blank) or PERFECT… I can choose to say, “Wow. That didn’t work out exactly the way I’d hoped. How can I do that differently next time?” I can choose to speak to myself in a kind and compassionate way. I can choose to speak to myself in the same way that I would normally speak with a friend or a student at school.

Come to think of it, should is kind of an asshole of a word.

I want my life to be easier than should.

As always, I want that for you too.
 

*This piece was originally shared in my newsletter, The Sunday Reader. To receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.
 

Imagine you are a gardener


 
Over the past few weeks I’ve talked with a number of women who are having a tough time finding/making time for themselves. They feel exhausted and stressed. Used up. A damned long way from happy.

One friend told me that her own teenaged son recommended that she take some time to tend to her own happiness.

Over the years, I’ve listened to teenagers lodge a host of complaints about their parents… most of these concerns will be resolved with a bit of time and perspective. Not once in twenty years as an educator have I heard a young person complain that their parents were too happy. Quite the opposite. We are rooting for our parents’ happiness for a couple of reasons. First, we genuinely want to see them happy. When the parents in a household are happy, everyone is better off. Second, when our parents are happy, they worry less about us.

Worrying is a prayer for the worst case scenario.

Although I don’t have children of my own, I’m an Honourary Mother from way back; I’ve helped raise thousands of kids over the last two decades. {I’ve just realised that what I’m writing here is as true for teachers as it is for parents. Yay, teachers!} I’ve learned that in order to care for the kids with whom I work as a counselor, I must first care for myself.

Some of you are feeling uncomfortable with all this talk of happiness. It’s not selfish to want to be happy. The idea that we should always put other people first is just a story and not a very helpful one. One can be happy at the same time as she pursues meaningful work and helps others. This is not an either/or situation. This is completely AND territory.

Turtle Steps Towards Happiness

So what are some small steps that you could take in the sacred direction of yourself?

{I love that scared and sacred have exactly the same letters in them. It helps me understand that we’re often just one small shift away from something amazing.}

What’s something you could do in the next 48 hours? If you are a person who thrives on a homework assignment, consider it assigned. If you are a person who need permission, consider it granted.

Here are some examples of happy-life-turtle-steps from my own weekend:

Haircut step
I went to Tokyo (an hour each way on the train) to get my bangs cut. They were a little shaggy and I deserve fierce looking bangs.

Japanese curry step
I located the Coco Curry House in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Ebisu… on my own. I love the curry from this place so I looked up the location on my phone but I wasn’t sure where I was on the google map. I have this little story about myself which is that I’m terrible with directions so I considered giving up my search but decided instead to ask for help. I went inside a sporting good store and asked the young Japanese women at the cash register for directions. She didn’t speak much English but she was able to explain that when I got to McDonalds I should turn left, then go to the next intersection and it would be close by. So I followed her instructions and then I asked my intuition where it would build a curry house (if it was in the habit of building curry houses). I had a strong sense that I should turn left… and there it was. By not freaking out, by asking for directions and then listening to my intuition, I found my favourite Japanese curry.

Starbuck seat step
After lunch, I went to Starbucks where I had a Chai Tea Latte and began writing this Sunday Reader. At the Starbucks locations in Tokyo, there is a member of staff whose job it is to help customers find a seat during busy times of the day when seating is at a premium. As I walked up the steps to the seating area, I saw an available table and quickly nabbed it. What I didn’t realise was that it was right beside the area with where people waited while the employee found them seats. So I had grabbed the Starbucks equivalent of the table right beside the bar. Within a few minutes, three women were perched on the little wooden Starbucks stools and they chatted back and forth in a loud and animated way. Thy had every right to do so but I felt a bit frustrated as I’d come to the cafe to work and I could hear their voices above the music in my headphones. Then I did a crazy thing. Instead of packing up and leaving, I found the employee who was seating people and let her know that I would appreciate a quieter seat and that I didn’t mind where it was. Within two minutes she came to my table and escorted me to a seat at the front window where she retrieved a a small reserved sign she had placed there t save my spot. It was the best seat in the house and I wrote and people watched happily for more than an hour.

Dance steps
I like John Mayer. I’m a big fan from back in the day. DP and I first saw John Mayer play in Houston when he was a 17-year old kid in an long-sleeved orange t-shirt and khaki cargo pants. He has just released Phase 2 of his new project and there’s a song called “Still feel like your man” that I’ve been grooving to for the past couple of days. On the trip back to Yokohama, I was listening to the EP and this song, in particular, made me want to dance. So I did. I danced on the platforms of Ebisu Station and Naka-Meguro Station. A woman smiled at me at Naka-Meguro. One of the train employees moved closer to make sure I hadn’t dropped my basket. It was an unusual move but I felt compelled to let my happiness out. And so I danced and no one came to take me away.

Time steps
I’m a person who worries about time. It’s another one of my not-very-helful stories and I come by it quite honestly. My mother tells a story about her father wanting to be SO early for church that if they arrived after the pianist had begun (30 minutes before the service), they would turn around and go home. Yesterday, as I was travelling home from Tokyo on the train, I realised that I had enough time to stop at JINS, an optical store at Landmark Plaza, before my appointment at 6:00 p.m. Despite a couple of false starts including getting off at the wrong station and then being directed up to street level at Minato-Mirai, I had 45 minutes of shopping for eyeglasses before heading home. When I began to feel anxious about the time, I breathed deeply and reminded myself that I had lots of time. I’m learning how to draw an image of greater spaciousness inside my mind. I’m learning how to create my own white space.

It feels, to me, as if happiness
is a magical thing we create,
little by little.
We can always create it.
We’ll never lose our ability to conjure it up.
There’s no way to get this wrong.

*This piece was originally shared in my newsletter, The Sunday Reader. To receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.
 

Reaching for ourselves

She asked, “How can you tell
if a person really likes herself?”

She’s kind to other people
and she sings sometimes
for no reason
and she’s calm
like a warm day on the lake.
Calm like a lake-sized mirror
reflecting the sky. Two skies.

“And what happens when she isn’t
happy with herself?”

The woman stands at the window
and watches the storm clouds gather
and move across her landscape.
Tornadoes of self-doubt.
Earthquakes of drama.
Aftershocks of gossip.
She worries the storms will
destroy everything she’s built.

But she built the storms too.

She’s always reaching
for the wrong things.

When we reach for things
that aren’t good for us:
food, drugs, alcohol,
too much of anything,
loving the wrong person
or loving the right person
in the wrong way,
the thing
we’re really
reaching for
is ourselves.

We’d like to come home to ourselves.

When we say,
“Hi honey, I’m home”
we’re longing to hear
our own voice respond,
“I’m happy you’re home, love.
How was your day?”

 
*This poem was originally shared in my newsletter, The Sunday Reader. To receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.
 

Don’t believe everything you think: Helping your child do hard things

* I wrote this piece for parents in our school community but here’s the thing… all of these strategies for doing hard things are equally effective for adults! Many thanks to Martha Beck for her ideas about thought dissolution and turtle steps and to Byron Katie for “The Work”.

Often, when a student is struggling with some aspect of life, the adults who care about her/him jump directly into “fixing” mode. We make charts, purchase an expensive organizer or start compiling a collection of relevant articles. Of course, we are trying to be of service but it’s possible that we’ve missed an important step in helping the student thrive.

“Is it true?”

Students, and humans of all ages, believe untrue things.

“I’m never going to be good at Math.”
“The person I like is never going to like me back because my body isn’t perfect.”
“I’ll never do well in school like my sister. She’s the smart one and I’m the pretty one. Everyone always says so.”
“Nobody likes me.”
“I’m not going to be accepted at a good university.”
“I’m always going to a disappointment to my parents.”

These limiting beliefs become the canvas on which we paint our life story. Notice that they often contain the word “always” or “never”. Sometimes the belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or an excuse for not taking risks or believing in ourselves.

Before we jump into action to help a child fix their problem, it’s worth taking some time to explore her/his limiting belief. Our thoughts about the world are often far more catastrophic than the actual world in which we live.

Listen
We start to do this by listening quietly while they talk about what is going on. If it’s difficult to get your child talking, you might engage them in conversation while you are washing dishes side by side or when you are both in the front seat of the car. Eye contact can be challenging when we’re talking about hard things. When we see a child suffering, it’s tempting to immediately jump into action: to share our theory about what’s happening or tell a story about something similar that happened when we were young. It may be more helpful to give them the gift of listening, to encourage them to say more, and to ask them a series of non-judgmental questions about “what makes you say that/feel that way?” It’s also worth noting that the silence that occurs during deep listening may feel a bit scary or awkward but leaving those gaps is important because sometimes it takes people time to figure out what they want to say and how to say it.

Question
“Is what you believe true? Can you be certain that it’s true? How would you feel if you didn’t believe this?”
“Is there something else that explains what you believe?”
“Let’s try the opposite of what you believe. Could that be true? Share three reasons why.”

When the student begins exploring alternate explanations about how they are feeling, something important may shift within them. They may feel freer and more hopeful.

For some students, the recognition that their thought is not true will be all the help they need. Other students will require more support and strategies.

Discuss past behaviours that led to success
“Tell me about some specific things you have done in the past that helped with this problem.” This question propels the student into a mental scavenger hunt for past strategies they’ve used to be successful in this particular area. Our goal is not to “cheer up” the student up but to provide an opportunity for them to feel more competent and confident. Take notes and give these to the student so she/he has a record of these strategies for future reference.

Turtle steps towards change
Challenging situations didn’t get that way in one day. Like problems, solutions take time. Students are most successful when they start with small turtle steps in the direction of their goal. Through these small actions, the student starts taking control rather than being controlled by the situation. This helps them feel less helpless. We encourage students to generate their own ideas:
“Today, at break, I have an appointment with my teacher to ask my question.”
“My friend agreed to let me practice my presentation with her today at lunch.”
“Tonight I’m going to go to bed 30 minutes earlier so I feel better at school.”

For many of our students, slow and steady is the right speed for addressing challenges, changing behaviours and making better choices. You and your child can work together to find the right way for you to support them as they make these changes.
 

What are you a warrior for?

 

The message above is from Danielle LaPorte; I have her #Truthbomb App on my phone which means that I get a new message every day from Danielle/The Universe. A few days ago the #Truthbomb was, “What are you a warrior for?”

Such a good question! I started making a list:
* Truth
* Growth/Change
* Feminism
* Stories/Art
* Teenagers and young adults
* Love

What’s on your warrior list?

Looking over the map of 2016, I can trace my routes towards all the ideas on this list. Some are well worn footpaths such as the work that I do with kids every day or running the Poet Laureate course. Other journeys have left fresher tracks. These are the big bold leaps.

When you look at your own voyage through 2016, are you surprised at the paths you took? Would you like to change directions for 2017? What would you like to move towards?

HOME

In the twilight of this past year, Damien and I bought a house in a small fishing village outside Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. We took possession on December 20th and have spent our Christmas vacation here with a minimum of furniture and a maximum of joy. Our house is small and yellow. It is 104 years old and has beautiful wooden floors and only one closet. It’s a five minute walk from the sea. For a few years, we’ll be here during our long school breaks and then it’s our plan to live here full-time.

GAP YEAR FOR GROWN UPS

During the 2017-2018 school year, I’ll be taking a Gap Year for Grown Ups. Damien will continue his work at our school in Japan so Yokohama will be our home base and I will… well, that’s the funny thing… I’m not sure what I’ll do. For more than 25 years, I’ve worked full-time in the service of others and next year I’m going to put myself first and see how that feels. Although planning is normally my thing, I’m going to let the year unfold and see where it takes me. Perhaps I’ll write. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to do some contract work with kids and teachers and counselors at some international schools. I’m going to have more joy.

I welcome your ideas for my gap year. Just leave me a note in the comments for this post or on Facebook. Thanks!

Finally, Happy New Year to you, dear one!

Yesterday, on Facebook, I wrote: “Thank you, 2016, for all the lessons you tried to teach us. May our hearts and minds be open and more receptive in 2017.”

I’m not mad at 2016. We lost some good people but we got amazing new people as well… and we made and witnessed beautiful things and the golden light here makes me think of Italy and there are these miraculous connections between us that shimmer and dance like small white Christmas lights wound around a porch.

Welcome, 2017! May we join forces in the creation of a luminous new year.

Big hugs.

Cheers,
Monna

P.S. This message was originally published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters directly in your mailbox, you can sign up here.