Category Archives: Create

One blade of grass

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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.

 

Make Your Own Rules

MakeYourOwnRulesCropped
 
{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 Amazon.com 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,
Monna
xoxo

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

Liz Gilbert, Big Magic + Poet Laureates

Liz Gilbert, Big Magic + Poet Laureates
 
LIZ GILBERT ON THE PERILS OF IGNORING YOUR CREATIVE SELF

Liz Gilbert was recently interviewed by CBC radio host Shadrach Kabango about her book Big Magic: Creative Living Through Fear.

Here’s the part of the interview that whacked me over the head {in the best possible way}:

Interviewer: You have a faith, Elizabeth, that everyone can be creative.

LG: Yeah. I do.

Interviewer: There’s a lot of bad art out there…

LG: Don’t care.

Interviewer: There’s a lot of unoriginal art out there…

LG: Don’t care.

Interviewer: Why do you believe that?

LG: First of all, it’s such a subjective thing you just said because you and I could sit down right now and we could make a list of what we think are the ten most important and magnificent works of art in the world and odds are there’s going to be stuff on your list that doesn’t excite me or that I actually, flat out, think is bad and you would say the same of mine so you can show me the most perfect piece of art in the world and I can find you ten people who hate it. There are people who think that Sistine Chapel is cartoonish. (Laughs.) You know what I mean? Like, there are people that think Beethoven is a hack. It doesn’t matter. So I don’t care and I’m not interested in criticism. I find that to be the most absolutely boring part of the artistic process.

Interviewer: You include that with complaining and fear?

LG: Yeah. I don’t care. I don’t care. And somebody said to me the other day, “Aren’t you afraid your book is going to encourage a lot of people to make bad art?” First of all, the fact that you would even say that makes you sound like a jerk. One. And two, my concern is not that the world is full of bad art, which I’m not even sure it is, my concern is that there are all kinds of people in the world who believe somehow that this ~ our greatest shared human inheritance, the right to participate in creation, the right to become a person who is unfolding, the right to look for the jewels that are hidden within you, the right to leave a footprint on the world ~ that that only belongs to the elite, the trained, the professional and the tormented and I stand firmly as a populist. (Laughs.) I want to see people making things. Period.

You can listen to the full interview here. The section above begins at 13 minutes.

CALLING ALL POET LAUREATES

“The right to participate in creation, the right to become a person who is unfolding, the right to look for the jewels that are hidden within you, the right to leave a footprint on the world” ~ that’s the spirit of this new course. We won’t concern ourselves with questions of good versus bad art and we definitely won’t spend any of our valuable time comparing ourselves to others.

We are, however, going to make things!

Poet Laureate of Your Own Life begins on Monday! This is a twenty day course for twenty dollars. 🙂

Each day, the Poets will receive in their inbox:
* a poetic reflection about one aspect of being a Poet Laureate
* a writing prompt with an optional (fun) writing constraint to make things juicer
* one poem that I love
Each Friday we’ll meet our Poet Laureate of the Week, a woman who defines herself as a poet ~ among other things. These features will include an interview with the poet about her craft as well as one of her poems.

Poet Laureates are invited to share their poetry at our secret and private Facebook group. All feedback will be celebratory.

If you’ve been on the fence, jump on down and join us.

Cheers,
Monna
 

Wednesday morning kindness

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Dear Stranger,
Dear lovely foreign woman whom I met in Starbucks,

I noticed you and your two blonde angels
as I passed through the intersection at
the top of Motomachi Shopping Street.

I was in a hurry to get to school.

This is my fifth year in Japan and I
no longer seek out other foreigners.
I think I’m Japanese which is a strange
identity disorder for a round,
pink Canadian to have developed.

When you first spoke to me in line, I was
silently chanting “Chai tea. Chai tea” and
hoping not to blurt out “tai chi” like the
last time I ordered a drink at Starbucks.

You said you liked my trousers and were they
from Japan? “No. Ottawa. I’m from there.”

And it took me a moment to process
that you had given me a compliment.

I’m one of those crazy people who tells
girls: “It is not your job to be pretty.”
Some people suffer from a limited
ability to understand these words.
They think I’m saying women should not be
pretty or that it’s bad to take pride in
ones appearance. I’m not. It’s so very
hard to illuminate a problem that
we stare at every day but never see.

It means I don’t get many compliments.

But you gave me one. Thank you very much.

And then you mentioned the cool design of
Japanese workers’ trousers. How you’d like
to do a photo essay about them.
And I agree. They look just like rock stars.

I was next to order. Breathe. “Chai tea, please.”
Then out the door and up the hill to work.

I should have asked your name. I should have told
you mine, given you my card. I’m Monna.
Thank you for your Wednesday morning kindness.