Category Archives: Create

The Sunday Reader: Sakura Edition

The cherry trees in Yokohama and Tokyo have been slow to blossom this year. According to the people who know about such things, the trees may not blossom as fully as in other years because our winter was not cold enough and our spring has been very cold. I’m no scientist and I’m certainly not a cherry blossom expert but I feel enormous gratitude to these trees for whatever blossoms they offer us.

A friend and I were texting about the blossoms the other day (we take this stuff very seriously in Japan) and I wrote: “It’s okay if full bloom looks different this year. The trees don’t owe us anything.”

The truth is that I don’t always blossom fully.

In late March I started a writing course with Martha Beck and here is the poem I wrote In response to our Week #1 writing prompt:


There was this time that I felt sad
but somewhere in that sadness
I suspected that my feelings
(my own precious feelings
that I’d spent a lifetime
learning to trust)
were lying.

How could that be?

With one eyebrow raised,
I turned towards my thoughts
which sometimes congregate
like a gang of thugs in the
darkest corner of my brain.
They looked embarrassed
as if they’d suddenly looked down
and found themselves naked
in Biology class.

Not so tough now.

I reached in and found
the sadness thought.
My inner wise-woman
held this thought up to the light,
pulled out her magnifying glass
and squinted, all truth-seeing.
That’s when the cracks showed up.
The fissures.
The fear
that caused the thought
that caused the sadness
in the first place.

For some time I carried
my Fearful Thought,
a small pitted seed,
in my pocket.
Several times a day
I sent it tiny love notes.
“Hello, dearest one.
I know why you’re afraid
and I know why you lied.
Patience, love.
Patience and peace.”

Walking home
from school one day
the Fearful Thought rustled
inside my pocket so I picked it up.
It was larger and had grown
a new green dress of moss.
The Fearful Thought whispered,
“I’m ready to be true.”

I planted the thought
at the base of a hill
where I could see it
every day and it grew
into a sapling and I sang
love songs as I went by.
“You’re doing such a good job growing.”
And the sapling drew
on all those good things,
the love and the sun and the rain,
and grew into a cherry tree.

At the end of March
each year, that tree
explodes with soft white truth.
The cherry blossoms dance
in the wind, each one connected
to the branch, each one surrounded
by joyful sibling-blossoms
that groove and sway
and call my name
as I walk home from school.

So I grew my truth like a sakura tree
and came to love my fear.

Of course, my hand was shaking as I hit “Post to Forum”. I wondered if anyone would read it or comment. I was seized with “not good enough” feelings which grew into regret which then morphed into something that felt a lot like panic.

Gently I called off my anxiety-induced take-off. I breathed deeply {inhale ~ exhale} and then followed my own damned advice.

“Hey, Monna. It’s not about how ‘good’ this poem is or how many people like it. This is you bravely and gently exploring your own inner life. This is about expressing what’s inside you. This is about making meaningful connections with other people through writing. As Brene Brown said, ‘The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.’ Your writing is about ME TOO. This is about you blossoming and there’s absolutely no way to do it wrong.”

There’s no way to do it wrong.

I spent a couple of hours reading and commenting on the gorgeous and astonishing writing of my fellow light-writers, more than 400 of them. It felt like dessert, like a hug, like sleeping in on a rainy Sunday morning.

There’s no way to do it wrong.

That’s also true about the Geography of Now.

Geography of Now begins Monday April 10th

Sunday is the last day to register for this online course and this will be the last time I offer the course in this way.

This course is for you if:
* You need an injection (or inoculation) of creativity in your life
* You’d like to pay more attention to the beauty all around you
* You want to take more photographs and go on some lovely photo-walks in your own neighbourhood
* You have a deep craving to write. (Please note that you can respond to the prompts with poetry OR prose.)
* You’d like to share your photos and writing in a super-supportive environment
* You want to practice gratitude

If you’re looking for a reawakening, here you go.

This piece was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters, sent every second Sunday, directly in your email inbox, you can subscribe here.

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.


One blade of grass


A week ago the members of the Poet Laureate of Your Own Life course began a month-long adventure of writing and reading poetry together. I thought it might take us a little while to get started, for people to muster up the courage to share their poems… and to comment on each others’ words.


Even before the course began, participants were popping into our Facebook group to introduce themselves. Our little patch of the Internet was illuminated by strings of twinkle lights powered by their amazing energy. Beginning on the first evening, my FB feed was flooded with poems about childhood and comments about favourite lines and explanations of why an image worked so well and small odes to the combinations of words that moved them. Within a couple of days, the poets laureate were commenting on each other’s comments and posting photos of whoopie pies and sunsets and small white houses by the sea.

Every day, in response to the prompts, some of the poets turn towards their pain and their pain lights a candle and shows them the way home. I imagine the poets, in their homes and at work, a little lighter, a little kinder to themselves.

Every day, the beauty of these poems smashes me wide open. I am in awe of these words and so grateful to each poet laureate.

This course is one of the best parties I have ever attended.

One blade of grass
For my sister Megan

In the beginning
a whisper of a seedling,
a light green ghost-thing,
pushes her way
through layers of dirt
and broke-downness,
passed old pots, bits
of broken glass,
time capsules stored
in coffee cans,
skeletons of pet cats
buried in shoe boxes.
Through the darkness
the light green ghost-thing
pushes her bud-ness
like devotion.

Cicadas sing
as she emerges
into a field of sisters
in long green dresses
dancing in the sun,
dancing like one
blade of grass.

Pushing your way through
So the thing I’m wondering about today is what have YOU been pushing your way through?
Have you been pushing your way through blindly, hoping to pop up somewhere good… or do you know where you’re headed?
What are you passing on the journey and what does it have to teach you?
What will happen when you get to the surface?
What’s your joyful noise?
Who will you call on for help?


This post was published first in The Sunday Reader. You can subscribe here.

You are living in a poem

View of BKK

You are living in a poem.

Naomi Shihab Nye
wrote this sentence
on the blackboard
of every classroom
she visited at our school.
She said these words aloud
to each group of students
assembled to meet her.

She asked if we ever felt
as though we were living
inside a poem.
She asked if we had access
to the poetry channel
in our mind.

I wondered how she knew

I wondered how she saw
the invisible place
that connects me to
the pipeline of life
that flows golden
and quiet
as long as I’m not
sleep deprived,

Whenever I am found
(not lost)
poems pour out
of the silver metal bucket
onto the barn floor.

Poetry goes out of its way
to get my attention,
whistles, beats its wings
like a hummingbird,
shrills loud like cicadas,
reminds me to dance

Everywhere life unfolds

A cafe latte at a restaurant in Tokyo
The softness of our Moroccan rug against my feet
A Youtube video of African women dancing
Jacquie’s Instagrams from Switzerland

Cold lemon tea and a clean kitchen
The Punch Brothers plucking at the Blue Note
People divorcing with love and dignity
Lin Manuel Miranda’s morning message
on Facebook.

Look around
at how lucky we are
to be alive right now.*

A young blonde friend in Bangkok
tries to lend me a book
and when I say
I can’t borrow it
because I live in Japan,
she walks to my side of the table
leans close
and says,
after dinner,
you could just read
a few pages.”

Poetry enters
through my skin.
Sometimes I follow,
dash after the poems
as they pulsate,
trace their cartilage
in my notebook.
Sometimes I feel
the poems
on my face
like sunshine
and let it
slip away

golden and quiet

I am living in a poem.

*Song lyric: The Schuyler Sisters from Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda

If you’d like to know more about the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, check out this recent episode of On Being where she talks about poetry, her life’s work and her visit to our school.

PoetLaureateofYourOwnLifeI’m happy to be leading my online course Poet Laureate of Your Own Life beginning on September 12th.

This course is for you if you are a noticer of the extraordinary beauty of ordinary moments, if you have thoughts inside you longing to be expressed, and if you’d like to share them in a low-risk way in a supportive environment.

You’ll have the opportunity to write a poem each weekday for a month. I’ll provide the prompts and the support for your writing, along with a poem each day to inspire you, to help you leap into a sea of words and learn how to swim.

Pop over to my site to learn more about this course and what past poets laureate have to say about the experience.

Inspiration Instead


{Unboxing a painting by Ruth Shively}

It’s the first week of February and, in Yokohama, it’s finally winter. The days are short and the news from America seems more reality tv than reality. It’s easy to become cynical but the truth is that the pay off isn’t good.

I’m choosing, instead, to be inspired by and grateful for:
*When We Were Young from Adele’s album 25
*Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye
*The kindness of Scottish taxi drivers {also Scottish shortbread}
*Ruth Shively’s paintings which you can see on Facebook and on her website
*High School students who ask for help for their friends
*This photograph taken by Jessie Voigts
*Snow days
*The way that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to Canadians when they speak
*Cashmere sweaters and scarves
*Lisa Hsia’s writing about her pregnancy
*The gorgeous love that a young friend has fallen into
*Scrivener ~ an amazing tool for writers
*Downton Abbey. {I’m know I’m late to this party… but wow!}
*The noticing poetry of Samantha Reynolds
*Cynthia Erivo’s performance in The Colour Purple on Broadway

What’s been saving you lately?

Noticing Poetry with Naomi Shihab Nye


Poet and joyful person Naomi Shihab Nye visited our school this week and asked students two questions that I can’t stop thinking about:
*Do you ever feel like you are living inside a poem?
*Do you have access to the poetry channel in your mind?

Yes. Yes I do.


Make Your Own Rules

{First published in The Sunday Reader on Sunday 3 January 2016.}
I’ve always been a people pleaser. As I emerged from the womb, pink-faced and gasping for my first breath, I’m pretty sure I was already scanning the room, trying to figure out how to make those people happy. And that worked out, more or less well, until it didn’t which is, perhaps, the experience of every woman allowed to think for herself.

Here’s the thing: we cannot MAKE other people happy. They are either happy or they are not. This is not actually your responsibility and the really bad news is that in your efforts to please them, you run the danger of re-arranging your beautiful atoms into something resembling a doormat.

This is not a sustainable model for a joyful, thriving life. We’re going to have to learn how to work as hard at pleasing ourselves as we do at pleasing others. Isn’t that both scary and delicious? This is my New Year’s wish for you… that you begin (or continue) to make your own rules. Here are some ideas…

*Know yourself. There’s no one else quite like you. If you’re an Introvert, you’ll probably need to stay home more than your extroverted friends. Stop apologising for that. Get into your flannel jammies and figure out your own idea of a good time.
* Get married or don’t. Take your partner’s name or hyphenate or perhaps she or he could take your last name. Have four kids. Choose not to have children at all. Love other people’s kids instead.
* Ask for the job title of the job you are actually doing. Ask for more money for the work that you do.
* Dye your hair purple or let your hair grow out white and beautiful.
* Lead sometimes… and also follow.
* Buy a tiny house. Rent until you die.
* When service is bad, speak up. Politely.
* When the talk at the lunch table is always focused on exercise and “good” and “bad” foods and that’s not your idea of a nurturing conversation, ask if anyone has read any good books lately. Or change lunch tables. Or bring your own lunch and eat in the park.
* If you are a woman, you already know that being a woman is not fair. How can you help? Where do you need to put your foot down? At our school we teach kids that girls are not things and that it’s not their job to be pretty. Some students don’t believe us but some do… and that might help them get to the good life-stuff faster. That is true for both girls and boys.
* Make your own church. Choose your own choir. It might be the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton or Adele’s 25. Celebrate whomever or whatever you’d like ~ in ways that bring you peace and joy.
* Start talking to strangers. {People are fascinating.}
* Stop allowing people to treat you in a way that is condescending, hostile or unkind. You deserve better. Say so. Teach the people in your life how to treat you. Treat others with the same respect.
* Keep every book you have ever read. Give all your books away.
* You don’t have to be just one thing. You can be a beekeeper and a poet or a carpenter and a philosopher. This is your life.
* You know that wonderful thing that happens when little kids are allowed to choose their own clothes and they wear a pink tutu with a grey and red woollen hat to school? Guess what? You too can choose the tutu. Striped socks. Red shoes. Audacious Christmas sweaters.
* Stop giving and receiving Christmas gifts. Give the money to a food bank or take a vacation or use it for a downpayment on a home. Or buy gifts for everyone you know and/or random strangers.
* Say no. People will not like it at all (they really won’t) and it will be SO good for you. Your no will open up so much gorgeous space for all the YESES about which you feel passionately.
* Say yes.
* Let people be mad at you. Stop going over everything that was said in every single conversation. You don’t always have to be the one to smooth things over. Many things pass all on their own; let this thing pass without your intervention. {I know… this one is terribly hard.}
* Travel the world for two decades. Fall in love with your hometown and never leave.
* Discover the ways in which you can best contribute to your community and serve others.
* Publish 25 Instagram shots in one day. Some days are just so glorious that you want to share… so fill yer boots! So what if some people unfollow you?
* Thank people for their kind advice and then do exactly what you intended to do all along. Or not.
* Advocate on behalf of others. This is how we make the world better. On I recently read a review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah; the review was entitled, “An unhappy hypercritical bitch writes a moderately engaging but unforgivably long novel”. Calling the author a “bitch” in the title of the review was not an appropriate, kind or useful way to convey information about this novel to other readers. I asked to have this deeply hateful term removed from the title of the review. It took four attempts over ten days for Amazon to respond; in the end, Amazon made the decision to remove the review entirely.
* Do you need all the stuff you have? Give it away. Sell it. Or keep it all.
* Write true stories. You get to define true.
* The next time you find yourself arguing about something, ask yourself if you really care about this issue. It’s okay not to have an opinion about which route you take to the airport.
* You are also entitled to disagree passionately. Burn the metaphorical house down.
* Find the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred.

My New Year’s wish for you is twofold:
1. May you dive deep into your biggest, wildest dreams for your own life.
2. May you find freedom from caring so much about what others think. People will criticize you anyway so why not live the life you really want and let them criticize that. It will be so much more satisfying.

Happy New Year.

With love, milk and cookies,

P.S. I’d love to hear about how you are making your own rules. Please leave me a comment below.