Category Archives: Create

My Inner Teenager, the Life Coach + A Retreat

This is the teenager I’m becoming now that I’m 50.

Laura Kuffner, a brilliant student at our school, created the illustrations for an online course I’m working on. In our discussion of what I was looking for, we looked at Annosha Syed’s series of illustrations of what Disney heroines would look like as 21st century teens/young adults. Laura then illustrated me in this same style.

This is a selfie of my soul.

I love that I’m looking out with confidence and determination. I also dig that my belly is showing. Going through my coaching program helped me connect with my divine badass even though I was NOT this girl as an actual teenager.

At sixteen, I worked hard to make a lot of other people happy. Myself? Not so much.

I was committed to following the rules as I understood them. I was to be the responsible Eldest daughter, earn great grades, become Student Council President, and receive awards and scholarships. I kept this checklist in my brain and I moved through my life checking off the boxes as if it were my religion.

When people said hurtful things to me, when they told me who I should be and how I should act, I did not speak up. I had no sense of where I ended and where they began and, therefore, I had no boundaries. I was filled with fear and did not recognize my own power.

What’s worse, I didn’t even know who I was. I was very rarely my full self (the self that is loud and joyful and loves to swear like a sailor) as I was too worried that these behaviours did not match the person I was supposed to be.

The teenager I started becoming in my late 40s understands that she can define success for herself. She can step away from everyone else’s ladders and crazy-striving. She can chill out. She has access to all of her emotions ~ the lovely ones and the painful ones. All of it. She loves to dance. She raps pure love. She craves joy. She wants to help other people as her truest self.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m channeling the awesome superpowers of my inner teenager and bringing all my gifts to my work and to my play. What I’ve discovered is that whenever I write a love letter to myself, I write one to you too.

What does your inner teenager crave?

What does she urge you to do, to learn, to create? Perhaps, like me, this is not the teenager you were but the defiant and amazing young woman you can feel pulsating and break-dancing inside you… the one who has her whole life in front of her.

Because we still do… have our whole lives in front of us.

The people I’m coaching are creating creative courses, they are finding their purpose and also learning not to worry about the question of purpose, they are setting out on travels for which their heart has been yearning, they are finding happiness in ordinary things (which are, of course, also extraordinary things), they are adopting babies, they are returning to life coaching and they are writing poems, stories and books. They are learning how to be gentler and kinder with their inner everything. They are finding their way back to themselves.

Life Coach Certification

Although I’m a long way from done with my gorgeous teenage rebellion, on Tuesday 9th May I was certified as a Life Coach. That means that I get to hang out a little sign that says Martha Beck Certified Life Coach. For me, my certification symbolizes the journey from one of the darkest periods of my life to the absolute lightest. It confirms my impulse to trust myself.

Certification feels like a graduation for the self who didn’t have good boundaries. It’s a mirror for the lovely one who couldn’t see herself. It’s a line drawn elegantly in the sand. It’s a parade with trombones, penguins, red velvet cupcakes and angels flying overhead. (It’s true… I never met a metaphor I didn’t like.)

I thought you’d want to know.

The Writer’s Retreat at Casa Limon

If your inner teenager (or your inner Wise Woman) has been urging you to write, here’s something lovely for you.

For four days in August, I’m hosting a small group of writers (6-8) at our yellow house in Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia. All you need is an idea for a writing project (poetry, non-fiction or fiction) and a desire to work with a small group of writers in a super-supportive setting.

{Top left: our house. Top right: Damien Pitter and Monna McDiarmid, Christmas in Blue Rocks, 2016. Bottom Left: the blue rocks + sea in Blue Rocks. Bottom right: our studio}

Here are the answers to some of the questions you might have:

When does the magic happen?
Thursday 3rd August – Sunday 6th August 2017. We’ll work together from 8:30ish until 4:30ish each day.

Where will the retreat be held?
We’ll work and play at our house in the fishing village of Blue Rocks, a ten-minute drive from the town of Lunenburg, a UNESCO world heritage site. During writing times, each writer will find her own writing space in our house, on the deck, or in our studio.

Where will I stay?
You’ll book your own Air B&B, B&B or hotel in Blue Rocks, nearby Lunenburg (10 minutes away) or in the city of Bridgewater (about 30 minutes away). When people register, I’ll send some especially yummy accommodation + restaurant recommendations from our Nova Scotia friends and neighbours.

Are meals included?
Each day (Thursday thorough Sunday) we’ll provide a light breakfast and a gorgeous lunch made with local food including cheese, bread and produce from the Lunenburg Farmer’s Market. Damien will be our chef.

What will a retreat day look like?
Each day we’ll toggle back and forth between learning, writing and sharing. We’ll focus on the following six topics:
1. Fear, Rebelliousness and Ease
2. The relationship between your writing routine and flow
3. Developing your voice
4. Writing Structure
5. Description and Metaphor
6. Celebration

Are there any yummy extras included in this retreat?
Heck, yes!
* Each participant will have an hour-long coaching session with me before, during or after the retreat. You’ll choose when you’d like to have the call and what you’d like us to focus on.
* A walk by the sea just five minutes from our house. The scenic village of Blue Rocks is a photographer’s dream. Bring your camera or i-Phone.
* Master class with Damien Pitter, partner, chef and MFA in Creative Writing from UBC
* A photographic portrait of the writer (that’s you!) taken by Monna

What’s the investment?
You’ll pay 800 CDN dollars for this four-day retreat. (Yes! That’s Canadian dollars.)

What’s the closest airport?
Halifax Stanfield International Airport is a 90-minute drive from our house.

Do I need a car?
Yes. There’s no public transportation between Halifax and the South Shore (Bridgewater/Lunenburg/Blue Rocks). Cars can be rented at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

What does “Casa Limon” mean?
Casa Limon is “yellow house” in Spanish. It’s pronounced ka-sa lee-moan. Damien and I lived in Spanish speaking countries for eleven years.

Please email me at monnamcd at gmail dot com with your questions or interest.

The Retreat page is coming soon.

With much teenage-certification-writing love,
Monna
xo

Note: 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.

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:

Sakura

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.

P.S.
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.

Cheers,
Monna
xo
 

One blade of grass

blades_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.

Nope.

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?

Cheers,
Monna
xo

P.S.
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
about
my
secret
poetry
channel.

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
multi-tasking,
sleep deprived,
stressed,
other-judging,
future-worried,
past-regretting.

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
dance
dance,
girl.

Everywhere life unfolds
shimmering:

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,
“Maybe,
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.
 

POET LAUREATE OF YOUR OWN LIFE
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

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{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
*Ramen
*Cynthia Erivo’s performance in The Colour Purple on Broadway

What’s been saving you lately?
 

Noticing Poetry with Naomi Shihab Nye

NSN

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.