Gratitude

Launch: Geography of Now eCourse

Yokohama GON {Yamashita Park, Yokohama Japan}

Most of us find it pretty easy to admire the greenness of the grass elsewhere. We tell ourselves pretty little stories about how perfect our lives would be if only we lived in another house or neighbourhood or country… if we had different or better stuff. The truth is that we already have everything we need to have a good life.

Exactly where we are.

I’ve always been attracted to place. When I was in grad school, I travelled by bus to Toronto to visit a friend. My heart had been recently broken and my friend was a generous and comforting sort so I accepted his invitation to stay for a while.

So I’m on this Greyhound bus and it’s night-time and the streets of Toronto are much better lit than those of Kingston, where I was living at the time, and I can see a couple standing under a streetlight talking and smoking. Although I don’t smoke, I admire the grace with which the woman reaches over and lights the man’s cigarette with her lighter. With just one hand. The glowing red end of his cigarette moves like drunken fireflies. And I’m wearing headphones and listening to some seriously sad-ass, broken-hearted love songs and I feel so affected by the scenes I witness as we drive through Toronto that I pull out my journal and start writing a poem. I still have it.

And the thing is, I did not have a particularly strong attachment to Toronto. I’m from Ottawa and grew up hearing Toronto referred to as, “That EVIL city.” (Totally true story.)

But that night, on the bus, I let myself feel connected to the people of the city and to the city itself.

Since I began blogging in 2006, much of my writing has been an attempt to describe my connection with the places I have lived. Cali, Colombia. Monterrey, Mexico. Barcelona, Spain. Bangkok, Thailand. Yokohama, Japan.

Whether I am travelling or staying put, I like to make myself at home. I like to unpack, nest, and get well acquainted with my surroundings. In my daily life in Japan I don’t wander very far from home but the ten blocks that surround our apartment have become my my playground, my entire world. I am ridiculously in love with our little corner of Yokohama.

About six months after we moved to Japan, I started writing some of my blog posts in free verse which I came to call “skinny prose”. I like the way that the short lines and the musicality convey my feelings better than paragraphing it.

And I adopted Instagram as my way of photographically documenting the places I loved.

These little skinny prose pieces and the photos that accompany them help me work out my feelings about where I live. They help me understand this relationship to a country that is on the other side of the planet from where I grew up… and they help me feel securely attached to my new home.

The posts I write about place are contemplations. And little prayers of thanks.

I want that for other people.

And I know that it’s hard to imagine taking the time to slow down and notice what’s happening in your own neighbourhood. We are busy folks. We have long lists of things to do and people who depend on us.

I get that. {Me too.}

But take a walk with me. Look over there. Who has painted their mailbox purple… and why? One of your neighbours has a new pug that sits on the back of an emerald green velvet sofa and waves at you through the living room window. (At least it looks like it’s waving.) There’s a new restaurant opening in the space where you used to rent videos. You take a moment to admire the pink roses that grow for a few short weeks in the lot beside the grocery store and you wonder how they got there and who tends them.

This is your corner of the world. These are your people.

The Geography of Now is about this. It’s about waving back to that pug. It’s about eating at that new restaurant and telling your friends about how amazing their grilled cheese sandwich was. It’s about being curious while staying out of judgement.

The Geography of Now is about…

SEEING
Observe the place where you live through a new kind of lens. See with a more relaxed and compassionate perspective.

PHOTOGRAPHY
Document what you see through photographs taken with a simple point and shoot camera or with your phone. Click.

WRITING
Record some words. Express how a particular image made you feel… or the memory it awakens like some ancient sleeping giant in your mind.

NOTICING + GRATITUDE
Notice the details of your life (like really, really noticing… not just noticing that you are out of milk) and feel grateful for the places and people that surround you. Those that love you and help define you.

BEING BRAVE + VULNERABLE
It may have been a long time since you wrote something creative and you might feel frightened. You’ll need to summon your courage.

I’m inviting you to take this leap with me.

THE DETAILS:

Start date: Monday, 15 September

Duration: The course will run for six weeks, from Monday 15 September until Friday 24 October. Please note that messages will arrive on weekdays only.

Format: You will receive a message in your inbox every day. The daily message will include a reflection as well as a photography/noticing/writing/gratitude prompt.

How much time you will need a day: 20-30 minutes although you may choose to spend less time… or more. It’s completely up to you.

What you will need for the course:

  • Computer with internet (for accessing the course and downloading your photos)
  • Point and shoot camera or cell phone camera
  • Journal and pen (I like one small enough that I can carry it with me at all times)
  • Facebook account. Note: we will share some of our work with each other in a private Facebook group. This means that no one who is not enrolled in the course will be able to see your photos, your writing or your comments.

Topics:

  • Knowing yourself
  • Photography
  • Noticing
  • Writing Skinny Prose
  • Gratitude
  • A final project of your choosing

Cost: 50 Canadian Dollars

Payment: You will be using Pay Pal to purchase this course. Please not that you do not have to have a PayPal account as you can pay with a credit card.

Refund policy: This is a non-refundable investment in yourself, your photography and your writing.

A note about receiving my messages:
The Geography of Now course and my newsletters are sent by me via Mad Mimi. If you have never received an email from me before, the message may end up in your Spam folder. You can resolve this by making me (monnamcd at gmail dot com) a contact in your email or checking your spam folder. Thanks!

Registration is now open here.

intersection of fresh and start

perspective

A few days ago
I changed up my routine
ever so sightly.
{I didn’t even mean to.}

Sometimes,
the very best things
happen that way.

I left our apartment earlier
than normal
(but not by much)
to buy a special coffee
for a friend
who’d had a very big week
at school.

Instead of heading straight for the sidewalk
beneath the highway overpass
{a spot I romantically call the canal}
I turned right and crossed the street.

Standing at that corner,
the intersection of fresh and start,
I looked back at the place where
I normally wait for the light
to turn green.

The new side of the street felt calm.
Gravity seemed slightly less efficient.
Even the sun shone differently.

An angel sat on my shoulder and said,
“This is gonna be an awesome day.”
{Angels are not overly concerned
with your ideas about proper grammar.}

Later that morning
I saw a group of four high school boys
in navy jackets and grey trousers
on their way to school.
Three of them
crashed and bashed
into each other.
The boy at the back walked more slowly.
With trousers six inches too short,
he displayed his white sports socks with pride.
As he passed me, he smiled.

I wondered if he {too}
had crossed the street
just to see the world
from the other side

and what his angel said.

Lessons in Gratitude

On December 31st, on a plane over Asia, I took my final photograph for the Gratitude 365 project.

Here is what I wrote about this photograph.

Lessons learned from Gratitude 365:
1. Making a commitment to do any single thing every day for a year is not a small thing.
There were crazy-busy days that I worked 12 hours straight or travelled from one continent to another, days without a decent photograph, and days when I simply didn’t feel like posting a photo to flickr. Still, I know that this is an excellent habit I am practicing… and I took this promise I made to myself very seriously. It felt great to upload my final photograph, knowing that I had kept that commitment.

  1. DP, for whom I am most grateful, doesn’t like to be photographed.
    I learned to address this challenge by photographing the evidence of him…. like a cupcake he had brought me… or his beautiful feet.

  2. Gratitude leads to more {and deeper} gratitude.
    By paying close attention to what is good in my life, I have developed a heightened sense of gratitude. Gratitude has begun to feel like a prayer: “Thank you for the sun, for clean water to drink, for fresh flowers, for a job I love.”

  3. There are Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days… even in Japan.
    Every once in a while I have a bad day. Yup… and I start to feel sorry for myself. It’s harder to feel grateful on days like these… but I recognize that this is also when it is most important to take a photograph of something for which I am thankful, something that makes me smile. The gratitude photo is a small step into the light.

  4. Small moments and gestures have been the foundation of my gratitude project.
    I am beginning to believe that there are no small moments… only life. This project has highlighted the importance of the small beautiful moments of grace and generosity that comprise an ordinary human life… a student stopping by to say thank you or that they are doing well… a new book… the sun set… and the walk home from school.

  5. Gratitude leads to happiness for others.
    Because I am practicing being more grateful, I feel happier. When I am happy, it is much easier for me to feel genuine joy for the successes of others. I rarely feel envious; if I do, I take that as a sign that this person is pursuing something that I would also like to do or accomplish. I let that moment of envy provide a motivating kick in the pants.

Thankful: New project for 2013
The Gratitude 365 project has been such a lovely experience that I have decided to continue it through 2013; you can find the photos on flickr. Here’s the deal: one photo per day and a sentence or two of explanation. I’m calling the project Thankful.

Thanks to you for visiting my blog over the past year.

Ten moments from the Gratitude 365 Project

One year ago, over breakfast in Istanbul, I decided to capture one gratitude moment on film every day and upload it to flickr. The project was not designed to improve my photography ~ although I believe that happens naturally when we practice a skill ~ but was meant to be a celebration, a contemplation, a counting of my blessings. The project was called Gratitude 365.

Here are ten gratitude moments chosen by DP.

February 19, 2012: Gratitude 365
Dear Universe,
I want to thank you for today’s spectacular sunset, a song sent to me by a friend, and a generous offer for a place to stay this summer.
Yours,
Monna


Gratitude 365: February 21, 2012
The bruschetta with perfect tomatoes from this lovely day: bit.ly/xDvbAR


Gratitude 365: 5 April 2012
The Balinese leave these small offerings everywhere – at temples and in doorways. It feels both lovely and perfectly fitting to be grateful for the Balinese practice of gratitude.
{A week here is not going to be enough.}


Gratitude 365: 17 April 2012
Tonight I am so very grateful for our school’s IB Art Exhibit and for the amazing artists in our graduating class. Wow!
{I am particularly proud that four of them have chosen to attend Art School and that they applied – in their words – without a Plan B. That is courage! Big hugs to Anna, Lena, Maria and Miyu.}


Gratitude 365: 26 May 2012
Today I was grateful for a sunny day in Tokyo, a few peaceful minutes in a little park, an amazing burger at Homeworks and all the gorgeous moments in between. I am grateful that DP came with me.


Gratitude 365: 1 August 2012
Peking duck at Ginger Beef in Calgary. Oh my!
{So grateful to have been there twice.}

Gratitude 365: 1 October 2012
This afternoon, we received the most recent addition to our collection of art. This painting is called “a la russe/Moscow” by Ruth Shively @ www.etsy.com/shop/ruthshively


Gratitude 365: 8 November 2012
These are the feet of the one I love.

Gratitude 365: 27 November 2012
Today, at school, DP came to my office to bring me this cupcake. The Grade 10 student I was meeting with thought that was “the cutest thing ever.” {She was not wrong.}

Gratitude 365: 29 November 2012
A recent graduate, who is studying at an American university, came to visit me in my office. She told me that she’s really happy. She also said that she’s spending less time on Twitter and facebook because she’s more connected to the people all around her.
I was grateful for the visit, the little friend she left with me, and these thoughts about the human need for connection.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about what I learned from the Gratitude 365 Project and tomorrow, I’ll share some of these reflections and observations.

In the meantime, what are you grateful for?

Freshly Pressed Yummy Goodness

Welcome to the lovely visitors who have headed over from Freshly Pressed to read The Problem with Foreigners. (If you’ve already read the post, you know that the “problem” may not be the same as the one you anticipated!)

I’m really grateful that you’ve stopped by… and am encouraged by your comments!

As an international educator, I write quite a bit about culture. Here are some posts I have written about my life in Japan where I have been living for a year now:
The Story of Japan and Me
Following Happiness Home
An Ode to Transparent Umbrellas
How to be a Japanographer
What the world whispered
In the Middle
The Walk Home

Thanks again for your visits and your kind words.

Freshly Pressed Gratitude

Hello!

If you are new here,
sent over from Freshly Pressed,
I’d like to welcome you!
Pull up a comfy chair
and stay a while.

If you liked
how to be a japanographer
I think you’ll enjoy:
The Tale of the Charming Sale and the Sun.

Finally,
a heartfelt thanks
to those of you
who “liked” a post,
left a comment,
re-blogged a post
or followed MonnaMcDiarmid.com

You’ve made my day
(even) lovelier.

Thanks to those who stay

fishI’m sick today. It’s just a cold (you know the terrible hacking-cough kind where you lose your sense of taste)… and I know I’ll be over it soon enough but it’s easy to start to feel a bit bad for yourself as work piles up with no one there to complete it… and the world of people who are WELL and HEALTHY keeps marching on while you, bundled up in a duvet, watch from the sidelines.

It’s particularly important, then, that on sad-ass, feel-bad-for-myself days such as these, that I take a moment to express my gratitude for what is lovely and good. What I’d like to say, today, is a heart-felt thanks to all of my real-life friends and my blog people who come to this blog-space to read and look at the pictures of Paris and hang out a little bit and comment and keep me in such good company. I appreciate that you come and that you stay.