Tag Archives: Life Design

Your life as a house


*This post was first published in The Sunday Reader.
**Soundtrack for this post: Ólafur Arnalds’ Living Room Songs and Adele’s 25.

We humans believe many things about ourselves that are not true or useful.

Round women, in particular, and women who perceive themselves to be round, are in terrible danger of creating for ourselves a too-small life. We apologize for ourselves, we slouch to take up less space and we embark on fewer physical adventures for fear of what other people might think about how we look as we cycle/swim/hike. Where our heart yearns for colour, polka dots and pink tulle skirts, we choose black. There are many photographs of our children but we’re not in them. We may even begin to believe, to give into, the story about fat people being lazy, unsuccessful and stupid OR we may work like crazy to demonstrate the ways in which we are not those things… and become workaholics and perfectionists instead. We say yes when we should say no. For me, the most damaging of all is the idea that we are not in the same “league” as the wonderful man or woman we might love, the toxic notion that somehow we are not good enough for a multitude of lovely life-things.

This silliness is a construction. I will repeat. It is all made up.

If we round women examine our own life as a house, many of us will see ~ upon VERY close inspection ~ that our dwelling (not our physical body but the way we’ve been living) is not structurally sound. This house will not hold the life we want. And once we’ve seen that truth, we can’t not see it. We’ll know, in our very bones, that we need to make changes in our lives but the way we proceed can’t be prescribed; the way forward will depend on our personality, our support network and our unique perspective on life. Some of us may feel crazy with anger about the condition of our home. We may want to burn the damned thing to the ground and have a bulldozer remove all evidence that particular house ever existed. Those wise souls who have, for some time, been aware that their house is no longer adequate may opt for a gentler dismantling and a recycling of materials in the building of their new home. The windows, for example, might be used in the construction of an arboretum, a warm peaceful place to grow orchids, drink tea and read novels. Perhaps some women will build their new house up around the old one which will live on as a storage space or a museum. The speed and method of construction is ours to decide but the important + challenging + magical bit lies in the recognition and understanding of the ways in which our current life-house does not meet our needs. When we see our house as it really is, we can mourn what’s been lost and begin to create a glorious new dwelling.

Yes. That’s it exactly. Glorious.

I’m working on a new project about life design for round women (and women who think of themselves as round). I’m not yet sure if it’s a book or a course but I know that I’ve been waiting a long time to write this, to share these thoughts, to encourage my fellow round women to get out into the vast beautiful world and LIVE the life you were made for, the one you desire with all your heart. This is not a small thing… to leave your old house after years of living there. Especially if you believed the only way you’d have a right to ask for something better was if you were thin.

Finally, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this project. You are invited to share your story with me… and/or tell me what you’d like me to include in this book/course. Please email me or leave a comment below. Thanks ever so much!

Life Design: Making a Photograph


This post is part of a weekly series about designing your life.
Peter Turnley, an American photographer I admire, talks about “making” a photograph instead of taking one. I puzzled over this at first.

Then I read this quotation from the poet Mary Oliver: “Attention without feeling is only a report.”

Ah! We make photographs in the same way that we make poetry which is to say that we feel our way to the truth.

Technical skills will not help you coax a flower into showing you its personality. The flower doesn’t care how expensive your camera is or how many months you’ve spent mastering exposure.

You love the flower, it loves you back. Just like words… and people.

On Saturday I spent the day in three neighbourhoods in central Tokyo: Tokyo Tower, Hiro-o and Ebisu. I walked through the city taking photographs with my heart {and Instagram}. I’ve shared them here as smaller photographs, the way they appear on my iPhone, like little gifts.


tokyo tower





divine feminine





Life Design: Truth Telling


This post is part of a weekly series about designing your life.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about telling the truth.

Over the past week, a couple of conversations with students have highlighted how tough this issue can be for kids. Imagine a student who falls behind with her school work and misses an assignment. She feels terrible about this but is unable to find time to make up the work given everything else she is doing at, and outside of, school. Time passes and she begins to believe that it’s simply not possible to complete this task. Her guilt increases until it shows up as full-blown shame and she can’t fathom having a conversation with this teacher about the missing work… or anything else. She begins to participate less frequently in class. She avoids her teacher in the hall.

As a teacher and Counselor, I can say that I am often not even aware when a student is missing an assignment. I am keeping a minimum of one thousand balls up in the air at any one moment so I’m never particularly worried about one student’s missing assignment.

But she doesn’t know that. She believes that she has let me down. The feeling of being out of control starts to leak into other classes and activities. She sees herself as a failure.

Perhaps, in the past, when a teacher asked her about a missing assignment, the student’s shame was so great that she believed her only option was to tell a lie:
“It’s at home. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
“Oh. I thought I already handed it in.”

Yuck. We’ve all done it but it doesn’t feel good for anyone involved.

Teachers are pretty bright people as a rule. We tend to know when someone is lying to us. And because we are human beings, being lied to makes us less generous and forgiving. When we sense or know that a student is not telling the truth, we are less likely to suggest, or grant a request for, an extension.

You know what teachers like? We really dig the truth.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t really have an excuse.”
“I’ve been overwhelmed and I didn’t get this done and I’ve been avoiding it like crazy.”
“If you would be willing to give me an extension, I will hand it in on Monday.”
“School is kind of freaking me out right now.”
“I didn’t mean to let you down.”
“Could I start meeting with you at break to get some extra help in your course?”
“Actually, I think I need some help with getting myself organized.”

There is nothing, not one single thing that I have encountered, that works with teachers and other human creatures one hundred per cent of the time but telling the truth is the best strategy I’ve found for living a good life.

The truth makes most of us gentler and more understanding. We see the truth-teller as a person trying to do the right thing and we are motivated to help them reach their goal. When someone is honest with me, I experience that as respect for me and for our relationship. The truth always makes me pay attention.

Truth splits hard things wide open like a coconut.

Truth makes it impossible to stay hidden in your dark corner because the space you’ve been hiding is going to be lit up like a Christmas tree.

So I’ve been thinking about the importance of telling the truth and about kids and not only kids because adults definitely have some challenges where truth is concerned and DP and I were walking home from school on Monday and I said, “I think we need to start teaching high school students how to tell the truth.” And because he is also a Counselor, he did not tell me I was crazy and we chatted about what that might look like.

Then, in the fascinating way that these things unfold, I checked Facebook and found that Elizabeth Gilbert had written a gorgeous and piece about truth. You can read it here.

The whole world is conspiring to help us tell the hard, true things that need to be said.

If you have any insights about truth telling, I would love for you to share them in the comments below.

Things to let go

let go

1) Hard kernels of worry
about what others think
of me
and my writing.

2) Comparisons.

3) Books,
decorative items,
clothes and shoes
that do not bring me joy.

4) The desire to buy more things.

5) Control over things that are out of my control.

6) Sadness
when people won’t or can’t
(or are not ready to)
choose a sweeter life for themselves.

7) Frustration
when others don’t say thanks
or do things the way I do.

8) The land of Better
and its shining capital city

9) Old hurts
from those who won’t ever see me.

10) Too-high expectations.

11) There’s no time.

12) I can’t.

13) It’s too hard.

Welcome to Monna University

I am one of those freak-shows who just loves school.  I adore it.  Even now, halfway through my life, when my friends go off to work, I’m still heading to school as a Counselor.

One of my favourite quotations about school and learning actually comes from my school’s Core Values:

All learning enriches life.

Isn’t that a cool idea?  All learning!

Although I sometimes toy with the idea of completing a Ph.D., the conclusion I’ve come to, for now, is that I don’t need another advanced degree to do my job well or to convince others that I am adequately qualified.

At this point in my life, I just want to learn cool things that interest me.  I’d like to explore these topics in a way that makes sense for a person who works full-time. While DP completes his MFA online, I am attending a university of my own making.

Monna University: The Syllabus

Part A: The Courses

Mondo Beyondo Dream Big1. Dream Lab by Andrea Scher and Jen Lemen
In the spring of 2010, during some dark and scary days in Bangkok, I completed a really cool online course called Mondo Beyondo. The course featured lessons, real life stories, secret missions, audio interviews and hands-on activities designed to help participants take our dreams from wishing to reality. For me, the highlight of the course was developing my Mondo Beyondo list of dreams, both great and small. (At last count, I was at 54 dreams. Yup! I’m a big dreamer!)

The Mondo Beyondo team is offering a new course called Dream Lab beginning on October 4th. The themes for the course are courage, gratitude and tribe. There will be lessons every weekday for five weeks and I can hardly wait to get started. (I know… what a geek!) I do have one very specific dream that I’m working on… let’s see what happens!

(In the interest of full disclosure, if you click on the Mondo Beyondo badge here or on the sidebar and then enrol in a class, I make a little money.  Enough for some of those fancy Spanish olives.  Just wanted you to know!)

  1. simple soulful photography with irene nam
    Irene Nam is a warm person and gifted photographer and writer. Her gorgeous photographs of her twin boys and of her lovely Paris make me happy. HAPPY! She is also a contributor to the photography blog, Shutter Sisters.  I am such a big fan of her work that I asked her if she would take some photos of DP and me in Paris. We met at The Tuileries Gardens for one magical hour of walking, talking and photography. Irene is offering a four-week workshop which includes:
    – Weekly lessons (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and photo challenges
    – Private discussion board to share thoughts and questions about the weekly lessons
    – Downloadable PDF of every lesson
    – An original photo print signed by Irene
    – Email access to, and live chat with, Irene

    I’ve never really gotten into the habit of taking photographs in Bangkok and I’m hoping that Irene’s course, also beginning on October 4th, will provide me with some inspiration and some photography homework.

    Part B: The Textbooks

  1. The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau
    In his recently published book, Chris encourages people to create the business and life they want by living outside the box.  He encourages people to stop saying things like, “I wish I could quit my job and travel around the world”… and figure out a way to make it happen.  What I really dig about him is that he’s playing by his own rules.

    Chris writes an amazing blog called The Art of Non-Conformity. You can read it here.

  1. The Mindful Couple: How Acceptance and Mindfulness Can Lead You to the Love You Want by Robyn D. Walser, Ph. D and Darrah Westrup, Ph. D

    Dr. Robyn Walser is a trainer for ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  She facilitated a workshop for Counselors in Bangkok last year and is offering an advanced workshop in Hong Kong next weekend.  Through my school, I have an opportunity to attend this two-day workshop and I’m totally jumping up and down in my seat.  Reading this book is a way to get Robyn’s voice back in my head. (She has a lovely, reassuring, truth-telling voice.)  Her book is also a great read!

    Part C: The Media Texts

A Single Man (2009)

This film tells a compelling story compellingly.

It is also a beautiful movie. It is gorgeous in the same way that “The Hours” and “The Constant Gardener” are gorgeous.  The art direction rocks!

The protagonist, Professor George Falconer (played brilliantly by Colin Firth), is one of the most authentic characters I’ve encountered in film or fiction. I strive to be more like George: fearless, open, and completely in the moment. Ooooh… he’s so lovely.

Part D: The Soundtrack

Rosie Thomas – All the Way From Michigan Not Mars

If you are a fan of sweetly ethereal alternative music and are not familiar with Rosie Thomas, check her out on i-tunes or myspace.

My favourite track from her new album is If This City Never Sleeps and you can listen to it on myspace here.

She always makes my studies sweeter.

What learning is enriching your life right now?