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Nine of the best things I ever did

9 of the best things

ONE
Reading everything (EVERYTHING) as a child.
I became the protagonists of the stories ~ Heidi and Harriet the Spy and Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew and Joan of Arc ~ and had the grandest adventures. Books nurtured my imagination and curiosity which turned out to be the twin-keys to the magical-world-doors that have have, one by one, swung open as I was ready to walk through them.

TWO
Doing, literally, whatever craziness was required to complete my undergrad, my teaching degree and my Masters. None of it was easy. I put myself through school so I worked the entire time. I dropped out of university after the first semester, worked retail for a year and a half, and then got my minimum-wage-earning-ass back to Carleton where I took five more years to complete my undergrad. It was worth every single difficult post-secondary moment to have the freedom and confidence to create this life.

THREE
Damien. Best friend. Best partner. Best choice ever. Period.

FOUR
Saying no.
(She whistles!) Who knew you were allowed to say no? It’s just not how the women-folk of my generation (and all those before me) were raised. Although I don’t think of myself as a particularly passive person, I’ve said yes to a lot of things that took me off my true path and, as a consequence, I’ve spent too much time course-correcting. Not so much now; I have moved into the era of The Transcendent No.

FIVE
Becoming a Counselor.
Training and practicing. Moving from the question, “How can I help you?” to “What kind of life do you want to create?” Expecting that the students with whom I work actually want to change and not feeling responsible if they don’t or cannot yet. Asking hard questions because the questions will help the student and not because I am curious. Listening with my whole being.

SIX
Moving to Japan.
For harmony and peace. For fascinating people-watching on trains that always arrive on time. For the intricate choreography of umbrellas on rainy days. For ramen. For cherry blossoms and other celebrations that mark the four seasons. For delicate manners and shoes left at the door and artful floral arrangements. For safety, Mount Fuji and an abundance of cute things. For the blustery way the wind blows off the bay in April. For quiet-joy.

SEVEN
Dyeing my hair red and then purple and then red again ~ after a lifetime of absolutely safe hair choices. A student at our high school died and the universe whispered to me, “So what the hell are you waiting for?” There was no good answer. I’m learning that being worried about what other people think is never a good reason to do, or not do, anything.

EIGHT
Creating Geography of Now, Poet Laureate and The Sunday Reader. Identifying the intersection of creativity and thriving, that exact radio frequency, that makes me hum… and then sharing it with other people. Writing and encouraging other people to write and make things. Gathering up a tribe, my own tribe of wonderful humans. Growing, learning, noticing.

NINE
Paris.
We first visited Paris (and Europe) ten years ago when we lived in Mexico. I researched for months. I learned that Parisians only drink cafe au lait at breakfast and that whenever I entered a shop, I should always say, “Bonjour, Madame” (or Mademoiselle or Monsieur) and ask for permission before I touched anything. And I learned not to dilly-dally on the escalator. These were good suggestions but all the books in the world could not have prepared me for how I would feel about The City of Light. Arriving in Paris was like landing on another planet ~ the planet I was always meant to live on. At the end of our vacation, I cried in the shuttle on the trip back to the airport. In April of 2016, just a few weeks ago, we visited Paris for a week and, again, I cried in the taxi on our way back to Charles de Gaulle. Paris is the place where I feel most alive.

This idea came from Danielle LaPorte’s Facebook page and I thought it would be fun.

What are nine of the best things you ever did?

If you feel inclined to share, please comment below or leave me a message on Facebook.

Cheers,
Monna

Rear Window

{A neighbourhood in Chiang Mai}

This photograph was taken in Chiang Mai on one of my favourite, ever Thailand days. My mom and cousin were visiting from Canada and we had embarked on our Best of Thailand Tour (Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai). On this particular day, we had been picked up at our hotel, Pak Chiang Mai, by Yui and Kwan from A Lot of Thai cooking school in their amazing van. DP and I both fell a little bit in love with Yui… she was a great teacher and is also incredibly cool. We highly recommend their cooking school.

We had stopped at a local market to buy some ingredients for our class and were then making our way to Yui and Kwan’s home for our private class. DP asked about the gorgeous tall trees we were driving beneath; Yui said they were rubber trees. I turned around and snapped his shot.For me, this photo perfectly captures South East Asia.

I am finally, with less than three months left here in Bangkok, really enjoying the city and the country. I want to be clear… we have definitely made the right decision to move on at the end of this school year and we’ll be proud to call Japan our home.
The difference is that I now feel completely free to enjoy what I want and am far less bothered by the less appealing aspects of living here.

In the past few week, DP and I have been incredibly social (for us); we have celebrated my birthday at a posh hotel, had dinner with a friend visiting from Japan, gone to our school’s drama production of Peter Pan, and enjoyed a movie night at the home of friends. We’ve even gone out on a few week nights!

I remember this same phenomenon from the end of our time in Barcelona. With just eleven weeks left, it is fancy jam time in our household; we take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. We’re busier and more content than ever.

What’s on your tourist-in-your-own-city bucket list? What’s stopping you from enjoying the city where you live?

We’re still going!

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” – Japanese Proverb

Here’s how things have unfolded:

We visited Tokyo and Kyoto in June of 2010 and fell deeply in love with Japan and its people.

In November of 2010 we were hired to work at an international school in Yokohama. DP and I were absolutely ecstatic.

On 11 March 2011, Japan suffered an unprecedented earthquake and tsunami that triggered the beginnings of a nuclear crisis.

Shortly after the earthquake, we received word that our friends in Yokohama were safe! They stayed in touch via Facebook and shared lovely stories about how people had worked together to keep everyone safe and calm during the earthquake. (God bless Facebook!)

Over the next few days, I watched far too much CNN coverage and felt increasingly paralyzed by the terrible images of devastation and loss of life. When Anderson Cooper showed up in Japan, we finally turned the television off. A sensationalist approach to the reporting of these tragedies helps no one.

A friend living in Japan recommended that we follow @TimeOutTokyo on Twitter for a more balanced account of life as it is currently unfolding in the Tokyo/Yokohama area.

We sought out more information about the nuclear crisis and find that not everyone is predicting the end of the world. Read more here.

Friends and family expressed concern about our move to Japan and our visit in April. (Thank you for your kind messages… we know that you love us.)

We assured others that it’s okay to feel whatever you feel in response to the events unfolding in Japan. Fear, loss, empathy, anxiety, confusion and anger.

But we’re still going!

The people of Japan are graceful, gracious and resilient. They are profoundly committed to the communities to which they belong. I’d like to learn how to be more like them.

When we move to Japan in four months, we hope to help in some small way. Moving and working there… spending a portion of our salary on groceries and travel in Japan will help.

The students at our school in Bangkok helped by working together to make thousands of paper cranes; they also donated money to the Japanese Red Cross.

Ultimately I believe that optimism helps. Having hope helps. Caring and praying and tweeting and blogging and sending your thoughts and best wishes to the people of Japan helps them know that they are not alone.

The Best of Thailand Tour

chill out in phuket
wai in chiang mai
Wai
dessert in bangkok
From top to bottom:
Palm trees in Cape Panwa, Phuket
Decorative ceramic figure wai-ing*, Chiang Mai
Macarons at Le Normandie in Bangkok

In a week and a half, my mom and cousin arrive in Bangkok for a couple of weeks in Thailand. As this is their first visit to Thailand, we have planned a “Best of Thailand” tour including a few nights in Phuket, a few nights in Chiang Mai and then a week in Bangkok. For DP and me, it’s also our farewell tour as we’ll spend our April vacation in Bali and Japan before leaving Thailand in mid-June.

If you were leaving your country, which cities and places would you like to visit before you go?  What would be on your home-country bucket list?

For more Monday Dreams, please visit The Mother of All Trips here.

* The wai is the traditional Thai greeting and is equivalent to a handshake in Canada or a kiss on each cheek in Spain. When you wai, you press your palms together near your chest and bowing. Your wai shows your respect for others.

I travel therefore I get into messes

People do not tell the truth about our travels.

We really don’t.

It is certainly not my assertion that we lie outright or that we mislead others through the invention of events that didn’t occur. No… that’s not at all what I mean.

I am writing, rather, about the very human tendency to omit those encounters and experiences that annoyed us to no end and which, upon reflection (most often occurring over the blogger’s keyboard) are perceived as likely to detract from the loveliness of our travel tale.  I am referring, here, to the too-lumpy mattress, the missed connecting flight after 18 hours of travel, the “Superior” room about which the only superior aspect is the view of a Thai garbage dump, the shock and attendant sadness of being served a microwaved meal in a restaurant in Florence or the unprecedented squabbling that broke out between you and you partner when you became lost in Venice.  In the rain.

Stories of discomfort and woe are so infrequently shared that I sometimes wonder if travel, in this respect, is like childbirth. My mother says that the moment I was born, she forgot about the pain. (Hmmmm?)

Talking and writing about travel often involve the re-shaping of the truth. A re-construction. A revision, if you will. (Let’s try not to be too judgmental here; historians have been revising history since the beginning of time.) Many people have a desire to present a picture of our perfect family on a harmoniously perfect holiday in a perfectly picturesque destination.

Poppycock, I say.

To travel is to encounter annoying crap.  Banging your shins against obstacles, small and large, should be included in the very definition of travel.  I’m no Pollyanna and I’m certainly not endorsing polite passivity in the face of being seriously ripped off but if you are looking for an experience that does not challenge you and push you past your limits, I would suggest staying in your pajamas in your own apartment.  (I’m not being judgmental about that either for that’s precisely what I’ve done for the past week and it was glorious fun!)

So why do we tell only the best parts of our travel adventures?
1. To justify the expenditure of time and money to ourselves
2. To impress others with our flawless life and travels
3. The perception that editing out the rough bits makes for a better blog post. (If I write about the hard things, will my readers think I’m negative/spoiled/ungrateful and unsubscribe?)
4. If we wrote about all of our good and bad moments on the road then we would be writing, essentially, about our entire vacation. We’d have to tweet it – like we were at a conference. The blog post of our beach weekend would take 48 hours to read.
5. We believe that other people’s obstacles are boring; only our own are truly interesting.  (I would argue that this inaccurate perception could be rectified through good writing!)

I think it would be better for all of us if we wrote, from time to time, about a travel obstacle that we’ve encountered and how we responded in the face of that challenge. I think it would be better for all of us if travel bloggers kept it slightly more real and acknowledged this fundamental truth about traveling:

I travel therefore I get into messes.

Why do you think so many bloggers leave off the tough stuff?  What’s an obstacle that you’ve encountered while traveling.  How did you handle it?

A radical approach to self-help

 

“I made myself a promise… to stop living vicariously and start living.” ~ Aunt on “Pushing Daisies”

It seems like everybody is writing manifestos. They are everywhere and some of them are even pretty good. (Normally I would share some links here but that would be counter-productive given the goal of this post… keep reading!) The problem with all of these manifestos, self-help books, e-books, blogs and online programs is that a regular person can start to believe that the published manifesto-writers are the only qualified experts on how you can feel better… and live better… and be better.

False.

Let me give you an example. In November of 2010, in preparation for the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNo WriMo), I considered the idea of becoming a “NaNo Rebel” by writing a book of non-fiction instead of a novel. Before I made the decision, however, I felt that I really should read Betsy Lerner’s book The Forest For the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers before I start writing. Ah hem. (Clears throat.) I know better and so do you! I have read at least 20 books about writing and don’t need to read another one… I needed to sit my butt in a chair and write. (In the end, I began a YA novel about a teenaged girl with superpowers and did NO research at all!)

I use this example to argue that YOU are the foremost expert on you. I am hereby giving you permission to put down your self-help books and start helping yourself. That’s right. Put the book down. Good. I am not a self-help guru or a social networking expert but my work as a high school counselor has helped me to believe in most people’s extraordinary power to help themselves!

Two disclaimers:
1. From time to time, many of us need the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. If that’s you, make an appointment now. Ask for the help you need.
2. Lots of people have great ideas that you might employ to help improve your life. These people include – but are not limited to – your mother, your best friend, some published authors and some people on the web. Take what you like, leave the rest. Some pieces of advice are better than others; you’ll need to be the judge.

Where to start? Let’s start at the very beginning…

1. Name what you want
Most people read self-help books because we have a gnawing sense that our lives are not as fulfilling as it should be. Let’s start there. This is your chance to name your game. What do you want? Is it more money you’re after? Less? (It is possible!) Shorter work hours? A move to the countryside… or a brand new country? More meaningful work? This can be the toughest thing of all – to admit what it is that our heart most desires without permitting interference from the buts (but it’s not practical… but we have kids… but we won’t save as much money for retirement… but what will people think.)

So why take the risk and change your life? Many people believe that our personal happiness is closely aligned with finding and fulfilling our purpose in life. In an interview with Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres said:
I believe we’re all put on this planet for a purpose and we all have a different purpose. It’s our journey and I believe that if we follow that journey… and it’s got nothing to do with sexuality… it’s just when you connect with that love, with that compassion, that’s when everything unfolds. Every bad thing that’s ever happened to me has taught me compassion.

So what’s your purpose? What would you need to do in order to live a life more closely aligned with that purpose?

2. Self-directed learning
After you have named your purpose, you are going to need to figure some things out. Go ahead and learn what you need to know but limit the amount of time you spend reading self-help books and blogs.

Without abusing the people who make a living writing this literature (some of whom have offered me truly helpful advice) the question that I have been asking myself more and more is “While they are becoming wealthier, are we becoming happier?” Why do we persist in giving so much power to these people?

No one knows you better than you do. When you have a specific question about something along your journey, seek that specific answer, much the same way that you would if you were trying to find out what train to get to the city centre. I would even go so far as to say that many of us would be much happier if we limited our time online. Period. That’s our life passing by. Start spending that time addressing and solving your problems.

3. Just do it. (Nike got it right!)
You think I’m cheating here but I’m totally not. You already know what to do. You didn’t get to this point in your life without noticing, not learning, not seeing. Develop a strategy. Write it down and establish deadlines. Act according to your deeply-held values. Buy stuff that you need or sell stuff that you don’t need. Get busy! This brings us to the next step…

4. Don’t stop living and loving your life while working on the BIG change
So you know what you want, you’ve worked out a plan and now you are going for it! There may be setbacks along the way. Your travel departure date may have to be pushed back six months because you were not able to save as much money as you planned. Fine. Feel sad (for just a little while) and adjust to your new reality… but keep living your life, enjoying your friends and family members and going to the movies and learning about good wine or whatever else it is that you do. Remember that YOU are not the sum total of the challenge you are facing or the problem that you are trying to solve. It only defines you if you let it!

5. You are AMAZING!
You are already amazing and you have everything you need. Not because someone else says so but because it’s true.

Write your own e-book. Create your own life.

Tell us about it in the comments!