Conversations with Your Life: 6 Day Challenge

Starting tomorrow, Monday 16th October, I’ll be posting micro versions of a few of the exercises we’ll be doing in my upcoming course.

Each challenge will be posted here, on Facebook and Instagram.

I’d love for you to read the challenges, share and respond. Please participate in whatever way feels right to you.

Wishing you interesting + helpful Conversations with Your Life.
 

To the Glorious Round Woman in the Piazza

I see you
in the Piazza
near the Uffizi.

It’s a hot day,
hotter than we
expected for October.
You’re wishing you
hadn’t chosen jeans
this morning
and your polyester top
isn’t helping.
You pull the top away
from your collarbones,
fan yourself with the fabric.

Your face is pink with heat
and something else
I recognize.

Your tour guide is talking
but you find it hard to focus
on what she’s saying.

I see it.
The moment you think,
“I’m too fat for this.”
“I’m too fat for this tour,
too fat for Florence,
for this piazza ringed
by statues
of perfect bodies.

You think people are looking at you.
You think you should have stayed home.
You think, “Who was I kidding?”

Oh, Girl!

I want to tell you that
you’re exactly where
you’re meant to be.

The piazza suits you.
Florence suits you.
Travel suits you.

You are glorious beyond measure.

Drape yourself in cotton and linen.
Move through the city.
Employ all your senses.
Let the world dazzle you.

Surrender yourself to your life.

You are exactly where you are meant to be.
You are glorious beyond measure.
 
 

What I’m up to right now + how you can join me:

Conversations with Your Life: An Online Course
This yummy six-week online course begins on Monday 30th October and the deadline for registering is Friday 27th October at midnight (EST). Here are the delicious details.

Six Day Challenge
During the week of October 16th – 21st, I’ll host a six day Conversations with Your Life Challenge where I’ll offer daily exercises to give you a wee taste of the course. I’ll be posting the challenges on my blog, Facebook and Instagram. I’d love for you to check out, and participate in, the challenge.

New Year’s Conversations with Your Life Retreat
We’re hosting three or four women in Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia from Thursday 28th December 2017 until Monday 1st January 2018. The retreat is a live version of the online course and includes transportation, accommodations and meals. The deadline for registering is Friday 27th October at midnight (EST). If this is your jam, you can learn more about the retreat here.

 

Light Gathering

I’m obsessed with light.

The first time that light ever made me cry was on our first visit to Florence in 2008. As we walked around the city in the late afternoon, we kept disintegrating into the golden light. Every few minutes, I would turn towards my partner… to see the look on his face and to reassure myself that I had not imagined all that beauty. When we got back to Barcelona, I wrote about it on my blog and my friend Mara Gorman, whom I know only through the magical interwebs, wrote back that, “one could eat the light in Florence with a spoon.” That image has never left me. Eating the light like panna cotta.

I’ve stood under magnificent chandeliers in Venice and Paris and I’ve been dazzled by their beauty. Chandeliers serve as luminescent proof that we don’t have to give up beauty for function. We can have both things in our lives. When I stand under those lights, I have a clearer vision of my best self.

One of my most powerful light-memories is from Japan. Motomachi Street is the lovely granmotherly shopping street near our apartment in Yokohama. Whenever I get the timing right and emerge from the train station onto Motomachi Street around five o’clock in the evening, the light pours down the street towards me like honey. I remember seeing our friend Saka walking towards me in that light and she seemed imbued with magical powers. {Actually, she is. We all are.}

It’s been my experience that life is an intricate dance between darkness and the light.

The darkness. In the last week, the American President sent a series of terrible tweets shaming the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico and more than fifty people died in a massacre in Las Vegas. It has felt very much like the Dementors are winning.

I was raised in a community where people did what they were supposed to do. They followed the rules set out by schools, by church and by their parents, grandparents and those who came before. They voted along party lines. These are very good people, the very first to help someone in need, but they were taught to fear change and to be suspicious of outsiders.

When people continue to live according to old societal rules without examining whether they fit who we are now, when they live in the belly of fear and suspicion, their collective darkness makes terrible things possible including Trump’s administration.

What if we believed that none of us were outsiders? What if we believed that we belong everywhere and that we belong to each other.

Just asking those questions makes the light flicker. Suddenly the light around us appears more golden, more intense.

Imagine what would happen if we all began to act as though we belong everywhere and to each other.

Even in the midst of this very serious darkness, there is a gathering of the light. I see so many friends, clients and acquaintances choosing what feels right and good in their life… rather than what they are “supposed” to do. It feels like many of us are lighting up at the same time.

Since I was a child, I’ve thought deeply about the meaning of everything. I’ve questioned the way things were done which I realize can be quite exasperating for the people who love me. But I can’t NOT ask these questions. It’s the way I’m built and also the way I’ve created my self. During my Gap Year for Grown Ups, in particular, I’ve been having a a lot of yummy, late-night conversation with my life. (You know the kind.)

One of the discoveries I’ve made is that the more compassionate I am to myself, the more good stuff I have to give to others. If I could view a “soul-view” map of humanity, I’d see that whenever I’m kind to myself, the Monna-dot lights up brighter than before. On that same map, I’d see that that all the dots marking the meeting places between myself and others are glowing softly. Like an intricate network of lights. Like a chandelier.

So, in this way, we grow the light.

I’m going to be teaching a course about what I’ve learned about being kind to yourself and listening to your life. Those conversations will help you create a life you in which you feel more of what you want ~ joy, peace, freedom. A life that allows you to do good work and to help others. It’s called Conversations with Your Life and it begins on Monday 30th October.

I’d love for you to join me for this gathering of the light.
 
 

Love In the Time of Disassembling

We want to be okay with larger bodies.
We really do.
But our families + our society
taught us to want
fat people
to get thinner
so they could be healthy.

It’s what we were taught.

But what if other people’s health
is not our business?
What if a person’s health
is between them,
their closest loved ones
and their doctor?

Oh.

What if these questions
helped dissolve our judgment?
What if these questions
disassembled
our
old
(intolerant)
stories?

That would leave us free
to see each human being
as deserving of dignity
and the right to pursue
their own happiness.

That would leave us free
to love each person
in the glorious body
that is theirs.

That would leave us free.

 


This is the third in a series of posts about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies. The other articles in this series are:
*Leggings, Body Love + Beauty Queens
*Put Yourself in the Picture

To receive articles like these in your inbox, you can subscribe to my newsletter The Sunday Reader here.
 

Conversations with the International Educator in Your Life

This is the second in a series of posts for and about international educators. The first one is here.

When I’m back in Canada for long vacations it often happens that people don’t ask me many questions about my life. That’s weird, right? And I know I’m not the only one who has felt that way as I’ve heard this comment from many other international educators. Perhaps part of it is that I keep asking questions about their life/work/family and people don’t necessarily notice that we’re not talking about my life at all. It could also be that people feel awkward asking about something they’re not familiar with… or they don’t want to be “nosy”… or they might feel a bit envious about a life they perceive to be more glamorous than their own.

Whatever the reason, most international teachers would love to engage with people at home in yummier two-way conversations about our lives. As Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

To that end, here are some questions you could ask the international educator in your life:

  1. Do you have some photographs of your school and your apartment and home? I’d love to see them.
  2. What’s a habit or ritual from the country where you live that you think people living in your home country would benefit from?
  3. What has been the biggest challenge of living in this country?
  4. What are you really proud of in your teaching practice?
  5. Tell me about your boss.
  6. Is there a book you recommend I read so that I can better understand the country where you’re living?
  7. How was the process of settling in to your apartment and this job? Did anything surprise you?
  8. What’s your favourite meal right now? Is that something you cook yourself or is that a meal at a restaurant?
  9. Tell me about a student you admire.
  10. When you moved abroad, did you feel ready? Tell me about that.
  11. What are you reading right now?
  12. What can you buy with the equivalent of ten Canadian (fill in your own currency) dollars?
  13. What’s a good metaphor for teaching internationally?
  14. What’s the loveliest thing you’ve ever witnessed on a flight?
  15. What do you now notice or understand about your home country as a result of having been away from it?
  16. How is the school you teach at like the schools we attended as students? In what ways is it different?
  17. What’s a cool lesson you’ve taught recently?
  18. What are some of the less glamorous aspects of living internationally?
  19. How do you get to work? What’s your favourite part of the journey?
  20. How has living abroad affected your fashion sense and the way that you dress?
  21. What’s the view from your home? (If you are talking on Skype, your international educator could just show you!)
  22. What food/meal have you recently encountered that you’d never had before?
  23. How have you changed because you lived and worked outside your country?
  24. If you could give one piece of advice to your twenty-five year old self, what would it be?
  25. How do you define home?

Pro Tip: If you feel tempted to ask the international educator in your life when they are moving home, you could tell them, instead, that you love them.

In the comments below, please add a question that might spark an interesting conversation with an international educator. When writing this list, I let my curiosity and respect for other people and cultures guide me.
 

Put yourself in the picture

This is the second post in a series about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies. You can read the first article, Leggings, Body Love + Beauty Queens, here.

i.
Five years ago, in a posh Tokyo neigbourhood filled with restaurants, bars and elegant shops, I finally found a hair salon where I could get an amazing hair cut and colour. Both the stylist and colourist are lovely people who speak English and, over time, we’ve become friends. For many people living outside their home countries, this is like finding the holy grail.

Before I even sit down at the salon, a member of the staff has placed a couple of English language magazines on the counter where I will be sitting. They never forget. They place those magazines out for me because they know I don’t speak or read Japanese and they want to make my experience in their salon as lovely as possible.

I absolutely experience this gesture as love. But the thing is that I never open the magazines.

Vogue. Cosmopolitan. Others magazines from that particular high fashion family. There are no women in these magazines that look even remotely like me because all of the industries involved in making these magazines (fashion, beauty, diet) are based on the assumption that the worst thing a woman could be is fat. These magazines tell us how to dress to look thinner (not fat), how to apply makeup to look thinner (not fat), how to pose for photographs so that we look thinner (not fat).

In my teens and early twenties, I bought and read these magazines but the thing that got to me was the complete and utter absence of roundness. Not only were there no women who looked like me, the “average” sized women I knew were not represented in these magazines either. I watched as many of my friends and colleagues compared themselves unfavourably to the women portrayed in fashion magazines. Even when they received a compliment, some of these women would skip right over the thank you and dive straight into the self-criticism, “But my butt is too big” or “my hair is too curly” as if the whole damned world would shut right down if she were to say, “Thank you. I do look awesome.”

So I stopped buying the magazines. After a while, I stopped reading them in waiting rooms as even the articles were based on the assumption that a woman should do whatever was humanly possible to look beautiful… where beauty was always defined as being thin and taking up less space.

That has not been my experience of beauty.

My little protest of one didn’t have an impact on the beauty industry but I felt a LOT better.

So when the staff at the Tokyo salon place those magazines on the counter in front of me, I experience this gesture as love but I don’t read them.

Last year, during a morning at the salon, another English speaking client mentioned that she’d like a magazine.

“You can have mine,” I said.

“You’re sure you’re done with them?”

“I don’t read them.” And I explained the reasons why.

“You don’t even read them aspirationally?,” she asked.

Nope. Not even aspirationally. Especially not aspirationally.
 
ii.
While I was thinking about this piece, I watched a documentary called The September Issue about the making of the annual September issue of Vogue. The issue documented in the film featured photo shoots in Paris and Rome with sumptuous interiors, lush exteriors and amazing clothing, textures and colour. The photos were stunning.

Perception is a funny thing. Because the only women we see in these kinds of glamour photographs are very thin, we develop an expectation that these are the only women who SHOULD be in these photographs… who are ALLOWED to be in these kinds of photographs. We start to believe that THIS IS JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE.

If you’re a woman in an average sized or larger body and you visit Paris or Rome, you may may find it really difficult to put yourself into a picture that you don’t believe you have a right to be in.

It’s not like anyone will say, “Hey, round girl. Are you crazy? You’re not allowed to have your photo taken draped across that red velvet sofa like that. At your size, it’s indecent. Here, just take a nice Instagram of your cafe au lait beside these pink roses on this lovely marble table top.” Except someone does say that. Many of us have taken all the implicit and explicit messages we’ve ever received about beauty, bodies, power and pleasure and we’ve come to this ridiculous life-limiting conclusion on our own. We’ve built up a wall between ourselves and the fun possibility of being photographed on the velvet sofa.

In another example, I’ve noticed that a lot of my women friends are not in photographs with their kids. They’ll say, “But someone has to take the photo.” Sure. But it doesn’t always have to be you. Your kids are going to want photographs of you together and I promise you that they will not care about whatever you’re currently obsessing about… your tummy or your hairstyle or what you chose to wear on that particular day in September 2017.
 
iii.
In the first two decades of my life, I stopped reading fashion magazines because there was no one in them that looked like me. In this part of my life, I want to put myself back in the picture of my own life and I want to challenge you to do the same.

It doesn’t have to be a glamorous photo. You could start with a photograph with your kid. Give someone in your life an opportunity to love you and care for you by asking them to take that photograph.

It takes courage to be seen, especially if you think society doesn’t want to see your body. What I’m discovering is that everything that’s been learned can be unlearned.

Here’s a new thought: There’s no wrong way to have a body. Try that on. Wriggle around inside that thought. Isn’t it delicious?

I look forward to seeing your photographs.
 

What’s an international educator?


{The cherry blossoms in Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan}

There are thousands of international educators working around the world right now but many people in North America, including lots of teachers, don’t understand what that means. This post is meant to serve as a quick explanation of this particular way of life.

For the last 20 years, I’ve worked and played and taken Instagrams and paid my bills by working at high schools outside of Canada. I’ve made my way in, and through, the world as an international educator.

How it begins

Looking back, I see that I was very lucky. Because I did my teaching degree at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, and because Queen’s Faculty of Education hosts an overseas teaching fair each year, I learned about international teaching while I was still a student. When I was in Teacher’s College, the job prospects in my home province of Ontario were not good and rather than moving to a remote community in the far north of Ontario, I thought I’d try teaching in another country. Even though I didn’t attend the actual job fair, the Placement Officers kindly put me in touch with a school in Colombia that was looking for two English teachers. The Head of School traveled to Kingston to interview candidates and I was fortunate enough to be hired along with a woman I knew well from my Bachelor of Education program. We asked to be flatmates. Two months later I was living in a city called Cali in Colombia, South America. I was living in a city that, up until eight weeks earlier, I had never even heard of. Although I was at the school for just a year, during which there were some bumpy days, I can honestly say that the decision to “try” teaching outside Canada altered my life path. My year in Colombia marked the beginning of a truly interesting life and career.

After completing my Masters of Education back at Queen’s I returned to international teaching. Originally certified as an English and Social Studies teacher, I earned my qualification as a School Counselor and worked for the next 18 years at four different international schools located in Monterrey Mexico, Barcelona Spain, Bangkok Thailand, and Yokohama Japan.

Do I have to be an English teacher?
People often assume that all international teachers are teaching English (as a foreign language) but that’s not the case. International schools serve some combination of local and international students which means that teachers hired to work internationally teach all the subjects students study: Math, Science, Humanities, English Literature, Languages and many arts and elective courses. Although we teach in English, most of us are not English teachers. Those of us who are, teach literature in the same way we would teach English at home.

Adventurous?
When people hear the list of countries I’ve worked in, they often assume that I’m a very adventurous person but that’s not exactly accurate. I do love to travel, and I feel so fortunate to have lived internationally but I am a person with a VERY healthy need for structure, predictability and a big old safety net. I am living proof that it’s possible to teach internationally and still have a life that is safe and secure. A life that might even look a little bit boring on a day-to-day basis.

A (school) day in the life
At the school where I worked until June 2017, there are 650 students from approximately 50 countries. The teachers are from between 15 and 20 different countries. Most students travel to school on foot, or by train from Yokohama or Tokyo; in fact students as young as seven take the train on their own. (It IS that safe!) Other students are dropped off at school by their parents. Students at international schools come from many different educational backgrounds. There are students that have attended that school since they were in nursery school, students who’ve also attended local public schools and studied in Japanese, and Japanese students who have studied at international schools in Japan and/or other countries. There are also many students from other countries, each one with a different educational background which is shaped by the kind of work their parents do and the companies they work for. For high school students, the day begins at 9 o’clock in the morning and is finished at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Teachers arrive at 8:30 a.m. and finish their work day at 4:30 p.m. or later. Students have a 50 minute lunch hour and a break in the morning like North American schools. Before school, at lunch and after school, students participate in clubs, associations and sports. Students compete in activities like Model United Nations and Brain Bowl. University representatives visit the school. The places we teach are much more similar to North American schools than they are different.

Making a living
Some international schools are run as businesses while others are nonprofit schools. There are good and great schools in both categories. Although I’ve never worked at a for-profit school, that could change in the future. At some schools, teachers make just enough money to live comfortably and do some traveling while, at other schools, teachers are able to save a large percentage of their salary each year. Most of us started our international teaching careers at less well-known schools where the pay was not as good but there are certainly exceptions to that trend. International teachers are also responsible for planning for their own retirement as we won’t have a pension from a school board in our home country. Some teachers work internationally for just one posting and then return home while other educators spend their entire teaching career overseas. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, just the way that best suits the teacher or teaching couple. Many international schools provide free tuition to up to two dependents which means that the children of international educators receive an amazing private school education.

Why it’s worth it

The gorgeous thing about working internationally is that outside of our regular jobs, during the evenings, weekends and school holidays, we have access to amazing opportunities to experience, and learn more about, the cultures in which we live. For almost two decades, I’ve been immersed in cultures in a profound way. In my first international teaching gig in Colombia, I sometimes felt frustrated when Colombians didn’t behave like Canadians… didn’t line up like Canadians, didn’t show up on time like Canadians. This seems hilarious to me now now but it takes both time and effort to comprehend and appreciate how people’s deeply held beliefs and values shape the way they live their lives.

Living outside of Canada has helped me grow. I’m more empathetic, respectful and compassionate as a result of being a witness to so many other cultures and ways of being a person in the world.

Finally, as a person who lives outside my home country, I‘ve developed a better understanding of what it means to be Canadian and this, I believe, has made me a better citizen of the world.

Next week
In next week’s post, I’ll provide a series of questions that will help you engage the international educators in your life in the conversation they’ve been hoping to have since they first went overseas.