Writing Sympathy Notes

Sooner than we want, we need to write sympathy cards. Not all cards available at the drug store work well. It’s far kinder to write your own note. Nothing is more comforting than a hand-written note to a friend in mourning.

Knee-jerk reaction reaches for “I am sorry for your loss,” and while there is nothing wrong with the thought, it’s been overused so much that it’s a threadbare hand-me-down from your heart.

Other things not to put in a sympathy card:

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

“I know exactly how you feel, my _______ died last year.” Even worse is when you are comforting someone who is mourning the death of  a human and your pet died.

“Your loved one is with God now.” You don’t know what happens after death, and if you don’t know what the other person’s religious beliefs are (or aren’t), leave predictions out of it.

“You can be happy their suffering is over now.” The word “happy” or “glad” or “relieved” should not appear in a condolence card. Ever.

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe that’s what you believe, but it cheats the other person out of mourning and demands that they cheer up.

“It could be worse. This friend of mine. . .” This is not the time to share drama in your life. It will not make your friend feel better about their loss.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Again, this makes a person in mourning feel that they should handle their grief better. Everyone mourns in their own way.

Things you can say:

“May your memories comfort you.”

“Our thoughts [or prayers] are with you and your family.”

sympathy-card-sage“With thoughts of comfort and peace for you.”

“Our hearts go out to you in this sad time.”

“We remember [the person who died] with loving memories.”

“May you be surrounded by the love and comfort of friends and family.”

Use a soft-color stationery–cream, gray, blue. No pink or  yellow, and nothing with a bright floral theme. No typing and printing it in a handwriting font. Use a pen and hand write the words as if you were speaking to your friend. It’s more comforting.

And your friend will stay your friends and be there to comfort you when you need it.

-Quinn McDonald is comforting a friend at the sudden death of her husband. Some of what she hears said is odd, bordering on strange.

 

 

Alone Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Neither literally  nor figuratively. “Alone” is an experience fast disappearing from our culture.  For an entire generation who grew up in sports teams, group after-school activities, study clubs, and went from that to living in college dorms, parties and more sports teams, there is a big surprise. When you have graduated, when you are done with work, you’ll find yourself alone. I know that people now have roommates instead of a studio apartment, I know that work is now a 24/7 activity, largely to avoid being alone, but sooner or later, you will find yourself alone.

One of my friends is terrified of being alone. She will do almost everything to avoid that evening spent alone. Call friends, spend four hours on Facebook, go on a date with someone she doesn’t like. All this because it’s better than being alone.

For some of us, alone is a time to recharge and regroup. After I’ve taught for eight hours, I need to spend time alone. But I’m in the vast minority.

Food52Whether it’s divorce, or death,  a fight, or just life, at some point you will be alone. And you can love it. You don’t have to live in dread or fear, being alone can be a delicious break from having people crowded around you, talking all the time.

Some early steps to comfort yourself when you are alone:

1. What do you like to do? Read? Cook? Hike? You can do almost anything alone that you used to do with friends. Except this time you can do it your way. An activity really can be all about you. You can hike at your pace, turn on your music, cook what you like. Take a deep breath and think–do you remember your preferences? Or are they blurred by what all your friends told you was right?

2. Quit looking at the clock. Instead, choose an activity and plan how to savor it. Decide which book to read. Spend some time choosing it. Decide where you want to read it. Outside? Inside on the couch, stretched out? Decide what is best for you. Then do it. Read till you are tired. Fall asleep. Wake up and keep reading. What did you like about the book? What didn’t you like?

3. Decide what you will eat. No more junk, on the run. Choose something you like that’s good for you. Make a grocery list. Go buy groceries. Cook it thoughtfully. Set the table. Sit at a table with candlelight. Play music if you like. You choose. The joy of preparing food and choosing what will nourish you deliberately is a deeply refreshing experience.

Those three are enough for now. Life alone is not something to be rushed, or avoided. There is much to learn when the journey has only your footprints along the path.

Note: When I searched for photos for this blog, all I could find was people alone, crying at dinner, or eating out of cans. Not even Google sees the joy of alone-ness.

–Quinn McDonald loves people, but she also loves being alone. Particularly after spending 12 hours on airplanes with 560 strangers this week.

The DVDs Are Here!

monsoon2Last March, I filmed two DVDs to go with my books. One of the DVDs shows how to make Monsoon Papers, and the other shows several different projects that show how to store and carry your unbound journal pages.

Cloth, Paper, Scissors, the mixed-media magazine covered a Monsoon Paper project in their online magazine. It ran last week while I was in Houston teaching business writing, and I was surprised to see the link in my mailbox as I headed off to class. It took all my strength not to tell the participants to check out the DVD!

Here’s a preview:

You can purchase the Monsoon Paper  DVD here.

T3492You can see a preview of the projects in the second DVD, Art Journals Unbound on the Cloth, Paper, Scissors website. And you can purchase the Art Journals Unbound DVD here.

I am not super willing to be photographed, much less video’d, but I knew that it would be good to support the book. And to bring projects to people who can’t come to classes. It took a lot of discussing the project with my inner hero to get me to decide to do these projects. But one of my most vibrant inner heroes, The Risk Taker, finally broke down my barriers. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone from time to time.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who encourages others to take ambitious steps for creativity’s sake. She could hardly do less.

 

Creativity Prompts: July 19, 2014

On Saturdays, I’m posting some journaling prompts to get you to enjoy journal writing. My favorite way to handle these are to set a timer for three minutes, what+will+you+write+4read the question, and then write until the timer rings. I don’t go back and re-read while I’m writing, I don’t edit or listen to the inner critic. I just write. It’s freeing to not pick apart each sentence as you write it.

—You go see a doctor. What questions can you ask to make sure you get the best care, and not just a six-minute session and a prescription?

— Many birds are raised by their mothers alone. Write a letter from a father bird to his fledglings, explaining what they need to know and how to learn it. You can do this with different birds: hummingbirds and robins, for example.

—There are four-legged animals and two-legged animals, but no three-legged animals. Why did evolution favor even numbers–at least in legs?

—If you were handed a sealed envelope with the date, time and cause of your death inside, would you open it, even if there were nothing you could do to change your fate?

Have fun exploring your ideas and writing!

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer still in love with writing.

Battling the Battle

The Phoenix newspaper probably has a higher share of obituaries than other papers in the U.S., because our population skews a bit older than some other cities. There are two striking facts that jump off the page:

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

1. Whatever you do, don’t call it “death” or “dying.” I have never seen so many euphemisms for dying. Passing on, passing over, going home, going to meet her maker, going to meet her husband, shuffling off the mortal coil (the writer must have been a Hamlet enthusiast), going to his just reward–the list is endless. But no one dies.

Death makes most people uncomfortable. We like our “stuff” and death means no more stuff. And as a culture, we see very few people die (except on TV). So I can understand we want to make it something else other than the very permanent death.

2. Everyone “battles” a disease. Usually it’s a heroic battle or a long battle.

When my time comes, I don’t want to have “battled” anything. It sets a bad precedent. It pits me against a disease, and I may not want to start a war with my own life. As no one came here to stay, “battling” is going to, at some point, be a losing proposition. And the idea that someone “loses the battle against disease” seems a little harsh. Eventually, it means we are all losers. Heroes that failed. That’s not how I want to look at my life. Or my death.

True,  I have a life-altering, non-curable disease. I am not “battling” it. I am adjusting to it, adapting my life and habits, accepting it, dealing with it, living with it. Diabetes is now a companion, something I check in with before I decide what to eat, how long to exercise, and how much stress I have going on in my life. But I am not battling it. That would be futile. Better to collaborate with diabetes that to struggle against it. I will live longer, feel better, be healthier and not exhaust myself in a “battle” that I can’t win.

-–Quinn McDonald knows her days are numbered. She just doesn’t know the number, and is making the most of every day she has. She thinks about death frequently, to get to know it without terror or resentment. And she hopes to live many interesting years to come.

 

The art of Lorem Ipsum

Unless you are a typesetter or graphic designer, the phrase “lorem ipsum” is Greek to you. In fact, that’s what it’s called—greeking. Lorem Ipsum is placeholder type, used to fill in for real words in ad design, book layout, magazine dummies and new websites.

Lorem_Ipsum_by_NeoSHBecause it mimics the length of English words and sentences,  it looks genuine, but because it has no meaning and isn’t repetitive, it doesn’t call attention to itself as clients look at design.

It’s so popular in design that Apple.com has a widget that lets you generate your own Lorem Ipsum.  Never heard of it? Here’s the first paragraph:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nullam vel turpis. Sed justo. Phasellus malesuada sem non sapien. Nunc feugiat nulla eu augue interdum vestibulum. Aliquam urna lorem, hendrerit vitae, fermentum ut, rutrum eu, massa. Maecenas nec sapien. Morbi ante ligula, dignissim vel, vulputate sed, ultrices vel, lorem. Nunc nulla nunc, tincidunt posuere, egestas eu, ultrices eget, diam. Nullam pharetra pretium mauris. Sed quam nibh, posuere eget, ultrices vitae, rhoncus ac, nisi.

I assumed that it was scrambled text, with no meaning. But I was wrong. It has a proud history, about 500 years of it, and it is one of the few print facsimiles that made the leap into the digital world with no damage.

Sometime around 1500, a typesetter wanted to display different fonts, so he

And ad, greeked in with lorem ipsum.

And ad, greeked in with lorem ipsum.

made a sample book by scrambling some type from a text he had printed. The book was “The Extremes of Good and Evil,” by Cicero, who wrote the ethics treatise around 45 BCE. Lorem Ipsum, more precisely,  has a 2,000 year history.

Yes, Cicero was a Roman, and Lorem Ipsum is called “greeking,” but it was Cicero who introduced Greek philosophy to Roman culture, and then developed a Latin vocabulary for Greek philosophical terms. And Cicero wrote much of his work in Greek.

Who discovered the link between greeking and Cicero? It’s attributed to a Latin scholar— Richard McClintock, from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He looked up keywords from the passage, and found a match in sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” (The Extremes of Good and Evil).  The first line,  “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..”, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

Entranced yet? Wear your love of lorem ipsum on your sleeve. Well, at least on your arm.

Quinn McDonald remembers how to spec type, hot lead type, and paste-up nights at the newspaper. Now she’s a writer, who helps others remember and helps them forget.

The Skill of Self-Soothing

My cat Buster misses Aretha. Before she died, they didn’t always get along, but they loved chasing each other or having a “surprise” stand-off, each of them backing around each other, lifting a paw as if to strike. Both would growl threateningly. And then, just as quickly as it started, they each pretended to find something more interesting and walk away. After the stand-off, Buster would find a patch of sun or an air conditioning draft and take a nap.

Now that Aretha is gone, Buster can no longer soothe himself. He is awake mostBustertub of the day, following me and meowing. When I ask him what he needs, he either runs to the tub for water, or to the door to be let out. But it’s not what he wants. He’s lost the ability to soothe himself.  I pick him up and talk to him, stroke him, but it’s not enough.

“Self soothing” is a term used for babies who manage to go to sleep using their own methods. They don’t fight sleep, they don’t cry themselves to sleep, they talk to themselves and just calm themselves down until they fall asleep.

My son was not one of those babies, and neither was I. My mother always said I was afraid I’d miss something by sleeping. My son needed a bath, a story, a song, another story and then maybe, just maybe he would stay in bed. He fought sleep with the best of them. No self soothers in our family.

The cat loves a warm patio in the winter.

The cat loves a warm patio in the winter.

It took me years to learn self-soothing. To keep calm. To not choose “frantic.” To deliberately turn away from drama. It takes a lot of practice. I start by going silent and disconnecting from all electronic gear. While I’m still up, I go to the studio and write down all my worries. That way, they are captured and I don’t need to rewind and re-run them. The next morning, I tear them up, after reviewing them to make sure I still have them all.

After I write down the worries, it’s time to find either the prayer mala or my seed pod necklace and rub the surface. This simply motion, moving my fingers over a smooth surface, helps me focus on texture. I then think of calming scenes, of things that went well in the day, or, if I am fighting sleep, of a book, turning the pages. On each page, I “find” a word that is calming. Then I mentally turn the page. This exercise, which is a form of meditation or prayer, usually works. Sleep comes and finds me.

Buster’s anguish makes me sad for him. He hasn’t learned the skill, so I’m being a bit more patient with him. Because, God knows, self soothing is a life-long learning procedure.

Quinn McDonald finds traveling a barricade to self-soothing.

 

 

Moving Forward

Every morning when I slip into the pool to exercise, I do a lap (back and forth the length of the pool) to get my mind into a stillness so I can exercise without having my mind run ahead into the day.

One of my exercises is to run, lifting my knees very high and pumping my arms. Since I’m in water over my head, I do not race ahead. I move sluggishly, surrounded by water that holds me in place. Resists my progress, while it’s building up muscles.

1445800And as I ran, it occurred to me that frantic running–in or out of the water–doesn’t achieve anything except exercise. Frantic running is not productive. It doesn’t get work done faster, or with more accuracy. We’ve all raced around only to make the situation worse instead of better. And wasted time on top of everything else.

When I sit on airplanes, I see people who are frantically busy. They stay on their phones till the flight attendants ask them to shut them off–for the second time. They pull out their laptops and work the entire flight. As soon as the flight touches down, they are back on the phone. I asked the man next to me how much he had accomplished. “Not enough,” he said, “and I’m late.” He ran off, pushing down the aisle.

In the running of the bulls, people run, bulls run, and then the bulls are killed in the afternoon.© Washington Post

In the running of the bulls, people run, bulls run, and then the bulls are killed in the afternoon.© Washington Post

I saw him again a few minutes later, mopping up his suit with a coffee stain on it. He was furious. As he grabbed more napkins, he knocked over a ketchup container. It just got worse.

Moving forward is a deliberate act. It combines planning and thinking and often, not doing anything at all. And as I run in the pool in the morning, struggling to make headway, I know that when I get out of the pool, my actions need to be far more deliberate. Sometimes, when I get out, I deliberately move very slowly, feeling each exercised muscle do its work. And it feels like I’ve accomplished something.
–Quinn McDonald is moving ahead. Sometimes faster than others.

Before You Commit

Some wisdom I’ve known for a long time: Pay very close attention to the way people treat you before they hire you, marry you, work with you, or take a class from you. Everyone’s behavior changes with familiarity, but if your future mate, work partner, client, or boss doesn’t treat you well before you agree to the commitment, it is going to go downhill after you commit.

The door closes from both sides--you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

The door closes from both sides–you can close it as well at the person on the other side.

Often, when we want the job, the guy (or girl), the friend, we deny our own wants and goals and give them up in order to get that short-term goal. “So what if this deal has some thorns?” we think. “Even roses have thorns,” we reason. “And I sure want that armload of roses to carry down the runway.” And then comes the job offer or the class or the friendship, and we are so blinded with the short-term victory, we miss the opportunity to ask ourselves if this behavior is really OK with us. Most often, it isn’t OK. And it’s not a runway, it’s a long hard road and the petals fall off the roses and we are carrying an armful of thorns.

But that short-term victory is huge and ego-inflating.  And right after that, when we want respect, it’s not there. We’ve signed the contract, accepted the lower pay, given up what we really wanted and it’s not going to come your way now. Negotiations are over. Work has started. You have settled for less than you wanted, and you will not get that upgrade. Why should they? You voluntarily gave up your values to get the short-term rush of pleasure. When it fades, the rest of the duration will look bleak.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

You may have to open your own window to let a fresh breeze blow in.

Know your values and stick to them. Your values make up your character, your spine, your self-worth. Give it up to someone and they won’t give it back anytime soon.

Jim Rohn got it just right when he said: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

If you read the blog regularly, a few weeks ago I had a post that asked “Is it a book?” the answer is it will be a book, but it will be someone else’s book. Not mine. And now that I’ve looked over the values I cherish, I’m just fine with it. No hard feelings on my part, wishing the author much success. My inner critic is screaming at me, “You lost the opportunity to go with a huge publishing company! Are you nuts?” But away from the closing door, the Holder of Deep Values (one of my inner heroes) is opening the window and saying, “Be glad. You did not give up what is important to you, and that is always up to you to choose, decide and protect.”

-–Quinn McDonald is seeing a door close and is waiting for the window to open. She trusts the wisdom of the Holder of Deep Values.

 

 

Saturday Prompts

It’s time for a switch. After years of posting links to art and artists, this Saturday I’m posting journal prompts. A lot of art journals are being painted and a lot of journals being bound, but not a lot are being written in. No surprise. Writer’s block strikes a lot of people. Stare at a blank page (no matter how many colors or layers it has) and your mind goes smooth and blank.

PromptsHere are some prompts to get you started filling your journals. Set a timer for three minutes and choose one of the prompts below. Write without editing your own thoughts or censoring yourself. Write down what shows up.

1. Lots of schools require some sort of uniform. Would you like it if your workplace made you wear uniforms? Supposing you got to design the uniform. What would it look like?

2.You’ve been mugged. You aren’t hurt, but you are shaken up. There is a cell phone on the ground, but it’s not yours. What would you do with it?

3. Is intelligence inherited? Which of your parents (or siblings) was the smartest? What criteria did you use to get to your answer?

If you use any of the prompts and come up with an interesting train of thought, leave it in the comments.

Happy exploring!

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who is exploring the interior.