Monthly Archives: October 2010

Getting into Hot Water

First, before the hot-water fable: On Monday night, November 1, 2010, I’ll be at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, hoping to meet a lot of new people and teaching a course on decorating your art Journal. Fresh back from Journalfest, I hope to share what I learned in two hours of journaling and laughter. Bring a journal!
Call Changing Hands
(480) 730-0205 to register.
Place: 6428 S McClintock Drive Tempe, AZ 85283
Time: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Cost: $20.

Meanwhile, a fable to enjoy till we meet: Food for thought, as it were. I borrowed it (with permission) from David Mankin, an oboist, dad and coffee expert with a great sense of humor. He’s on my blogroll–and if you want a good read, go visit him.

The Carrot, the Egg and the Coffee Bean

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

carrotsHer mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

eggsIn about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

coffee beansFinally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water , they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

latte artMay you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.

When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling.

Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

Is It Really All God’s Plan?

“If it doesn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to be.”  I’ve been hearing that phrase a lot lately. Or, worse, “If it’s meant to be, things will fall in place. If not, God didn’t want me to have it.” I don’t understand this whole way of thinking. And while I do believe in a God, I don’t  believe our every tiny whim is a deity’s responsibility.

Want great tomaotes? Water them yourself.

If that way of thinking were true, I’d never have to water my garden (God would provide rain at the necessary times), prune the fig trees (they would grow perfectly to grow their fruit) or work hard for something I wanted (because if it’s supposed to happen, it will drop it into my lap).

Blaming God for our lack of initiative doesn’t seem right. It negates our free will and allows us to blame failure on God. It doesn’t allow us  responsibility for our own mistakes, or the wisdom to fix them.

Worst of all, that kind of thinking makes God the victimizer. Most of us have gathered a lot of evidence that we are victims in life–think of how often we say, “If only. . .” If only our parents had given us what we needed, we would have had a better career. If only we’d gone to a more prestigious school, we’d get that promotion. If only our boss had played fair, we wouldn’t have been laid off. The list goes on into eternity.

When we become victims–of a deity, of others, even of ourselves, we become powerless. We lose. It’s an excuse to give up, to blame others.

We usually reach for drama. When we are the star of our own drama, we can make other people sorry for what they did. Except they aren’t. And their refusal to accept all that responsibility fuels our anger and victimhood all the more. As long as we don’t let anyone off the hook, we don’t have to pull ourselves out of our mess.

There is an amazing way to change your life. Let others off the hook. They aren’t suffering over hurting you. You are. If you stop blaming them, stop creating drama, stop showing them how awful they are because your life is a mess, and spend that energy in righting your rocky life, and putting it together, you will use your own creativity to heal yourself.

You don’t have to wait for anyone. You can do it on your own. Your own creativity is waiting to be used. No one else can use it for you. No one else can want a happy, prosperous life for you. But if you want it for yourself, and want it more than blaming others—from your parents to God—you will be able to find the gifts in your life and use them to build a future of your own creation.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life– and creativity coach. She helps people through big changes in their life.

Travel Tips for Bottles

I’m at JournalFest, and that required getting up before I went to bed so I could leave for the airport at 3:45 a.m. Luckily, a good friend was driving. I’m brain-stem functional till later in the day.

We can send a man to the moon, but we cannot make a good travel bottle.

What’s a good travel bottle?

  • It is small, barely 3 oz.,and is clearly marked as such, to get through airports
  • It is clear so you can see what is in it
  • It is slender, so you can pack a lot of them in those little plastic bags the TSA insists on
  • It stands well upside down, so you can get your stuff out of them when it’s almost empty
  • It doesn’t leak
hard plastic bottles travel well, but still leak

Not leaking is the problem I’m trying to manage. Airplanes don’t pressurize the cabins nearly as much as they did five years ago, it saves the airlines fuel. (If you seem to get sleepy on flights, but are always awake as the plane makes that “final descent to your destination,” that’s why.)

Without good pressurization, there is a lot of contraction and expansion of contents. Most bottles have those tip-to-open lids, and the expansion of contents tips those lids open, just enough for hand cream, shampoo and conditioner to leak. After I check into a hotel, I have to rinse all the bottles and the bag as well. Welcome to Chicago, you have to wash your bottles, and everything else in that little bag.

Sure, I can tape the bottles shut with duct tape, and then pry it off when I arrive, and re-tape when I fly back, but there must be an easier way.

I can’t find small bottles with screw tops, at least not inexpensive ones. There are flip-tops, tilt-tops, and pop-offs, all of which simply don’t stay shut on airplanes.

So here is what I do to keep my sanity and the stuff in the bottles? I buy handcream in sample sizes, with screw-tops. I refill these. (More on that later) I don’t fill the shampoo and cream-rinse bottles all the way. I fill them about half way. I pack them into the bag top up. I then tuck a piece of paper towel on top–not enough to hide the contents, I fold it in a strip and top it right under the ziplock portion. It’s never been pulled by the TSA, and it absorbs the leaks.

I also tuck the bag into the carry-on standing upright, which keep the liquid from blowing out the top. When I get to the hotel, I take the shampoo and cream rinse bottles, make sure the top is shut, and put them, top down, into the shower. When I’m ready for them, the liquid has settled around the top and I can squeeze with immediate results.

A rubber band around the cream rinse bottle helps me tell the difference when I’m in the shower and don’t have my glasses on.

Refilling the sample size.

  • Take a full tube/bottle and turn it upside down until the hand cream settles in the top portion.
  • Take the smaller bottle/tube and squeeze it until most of the air is out of it, or until cream appears at the top. Maintain the pressure with one hand.
  • Push the two openings together. If you are doing small tube to big bottle, the entire opening of the bottle must be closed by the tube. Then slowly release the tube and it will successfully suck the cream from the larger bottle/tube.
  • Repeat till the small tube is full.

Use happily till both are empty. When the small tube wears out, buy a new small tube.

Small thing, big results. And you have enough trouble traveling without all the problems in your makeup, shampoo and liquids.

Other quick trip-tips:

  • Wear slip-on shoes. Trying to retie your shoes in the security line encourages people to bump into you.
  • Wear a shirt or pants with pockets. Use a pocket to store your license and boarding pass while you are shepherding your stuff through the X-ray machine.
  • Put the plastic bag with liquids in an outside pocket of your carry-on, so you can find it easily. Once you are through security, you can put it somewhere else.
  • Print out and take along a Google-Map direction from the airport to your hotel or destination. In large, spread out cities like Chicago and Houston, taxi drivers often don’t speak English and won’t understand you. This is not the time to sort through your feeling on immigration. Hand them the directions. Even if they have a GPS system, it shows them the name and address of the hotel, and you’ll get there.

Happy travels!

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and life- and creativity coach. She helps people get through transitions, change and find the opportunity in difficult situations. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Perfectionists: You Must Choose Sometime

Every time you make a decision, you close the door to other choices. It’s a fact of life. If you are a perfectionist, this causes a problem. Did you make the best decision? If it is the best decision for now, how about tomorrow?

Even New Hampshire's Old Man in the Mountain changed--part of his face fell off.

For those of us who are recovering perfectionists, I can cheerfully say, “Make a decision. Every one of them comes with a consequence. You can’t control your whole damn future.” The difference between a rut and a groove is the length of time you’ve spent there.

Perfectionists are excellent procrastinators. Putting off a decision means not making a wrong decision. Yes, that’s true, but it also means you are not moving forward. And not moving forward isn’t an act of perfection.

Here’s something I learned over the years: if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t taking enough of a creative risk. If you are doing everything right, you are doing the same thing over and over. That isn’t perfection, that’s the shortcut to insanity. Unless, of course, you are working in the widget factory, assembling widgets. Is this the place for a perfectionist?

Come on out in the open and try making a decision whose outcome isn’t practiced, isn’t certain. If you make a mistake, you’ve learned something. And learning something is a milestone to getting better. Perfection, on the other hand, is an impossible state that hates “better.” So it remains immobile.

–Quinn McDonald  is a writer and certified creativity coach. She’s also an artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Fall in Phoenix

Back East, you know it’s fall when the leaves turn red and yellow and the nights get nippy. Phoenix has a fall season, too. It’s not always summer here. It’s just a bit more subtle than in other places.

Here’s how you know it’s finally fall in Phoenix:
1. The lines at movie theaters, restaurants and plays develop and get longer. It’s a sure sign the snowbirds are back. Like migrating birds, snowbirds show up in the fall and fill up the parking lots and theater seats. I love ‘em. It may not swell the tax records, but it helps us keep afloat from a retail standpoint. It would be nice if they followed our traffic rules. That thing about just stopping in the middle of the street when you hear a siren is weird.

2. The birds come back. In the summer we have pigeons and grackles, maybe a gila woodpecker and quail. But once you get into late October, the rising sun is accompanied by the chatter of migrating songbirds who stay. We are on the other end of the migration trail, and have the hawks, grosbeaks, and cardinals to prove it.

3. The citrus ripens. All summer long, the citrus was green and small. Now it starts to grow, then lighten. Around October it turns lighter green, and you can distinguish the fruit from the leaves. The fruit then turn yellow, bottom to top. Then it begins to smell heavenly and it’s ready to eat around mid-December.

4. The RVs come back. People who own RVs often also own land in Flagstaff or Prescott. North of Phoenix where the elevation gets above 4,000 feet it is also much cooler. People haul their RVs to parks or their cabins and have a great cool place for the summer. In the fall, when it gets too cold, they come back. In droves. It’s hard to hide a bus-size RV behind a fence. But people do.

5. It’s time to plant. Cooler fall weather allows for planting of trees, flowers and aloes–plants you cannot plant in the summer because it’s just too hot. Pansies thrive here in the winter, as do sunflowers. Tomatoes don’t work in the fall, the nights are too cool, but there are other fruits and vegetables that do fine–I’ve grown peas and salad greens all winter long.

Not all of Arizona is a desert. Flagstaff gets about 120 inches of snow every winter, they’ve already had the first freeze. Prescott housed the frontier capitol and has fabulous fall foliage and festivals. Payson is close enough to the Mogollan ridge to benefit from higher elevation and cool fall temperatures. Welcome to Phoenix–come visit and enjoy your winter.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist, naturalist and creativity coach.

 

The Judging Game

If we are what we eat, our minds and souls must surely be what we read and watch. About five years ago, I gave up watching TV. It wasn’t for a high-minded reason, there just wasn’t a lot coming out of the box that interested me. Not even with 134 channels. The final blow came with reality TV. I couldn’t stand to see the mean girls grown up and thriving, the bad boy bullies being encouraged. Of course the shows are scripted, and bad behavior is encouraged. If the shows were about kindness and satisfaction, no one would tune in.

The perfect mix: car destruction and sexy lady.

Yes, I do watch the occasional TV show–and enjoy it. Life After People ia interesting–once you know a Twinkie will remain unchanged for centuries, others puzzling facts of life make sense. The Sopranos had excellent writing and casting, it kept me glued to the screen. And I watch Project Runway because talented people are chosen to create something original within a time limit. And yes, I wish the show concentrated more on sewing and less on snarking.

The shows that made me walk away were the shows that pit women against each other, or worse, elevate one woman to power over others, encouraging verbal and emotional cruelty and hurtful remarks as painful prods to get the contestants to take embarrassing action. Patti Stanger of The Millionaire Matchmaker is proud of her razor sharp tongue. She humiliates the rich into finding mates. I have a sneaking suspicion that the audience loved to see the rich getting yelled at for any reason.

Stanger’s abrasive, abusive style has made Bravo’s senior vice president for original programming, Andy Cohen, gasp, “I can’t believe what comes out of her mouth.” Other people not only can believe it, they love it. Last season, 1.6 people watched the show regularly, and bloggers called it “strangely invigorating” as Stanger yells at women to straighten their hair and grow it long to get a man, and tells men that “I want my dinner paid for and my car door opened for me. . . if you don’t swim an ocean,  climb a mountain, and bring back the bacon. . .then snip, snip, I’m on to the next hunter.”

She is still looking for the next hunter. For all her advice, for the more than a million fans, for her straight, glossy hair that she whips like a weapon, Patti Stanger is not married. Nope, not even engaged, although she has been engaged. Her boyfriend of more than six year broke up with her some months ago. In fact, when asked about her inability to land the elusive hunter, she gets annoyed, brushes off the question as unimportant. Anywhere else in the business world, results count. Not on reality TV.  If you can’t make it happen for yourself, why should anyone listen to your advice, much less follow it? Stanger staunchly claims that her brick-and-mortar business has a 99 percent success rate. She must be the missing one percent.

What makes reality TV work is that it’s not real. No one would watch a season of patience and kindness. Since the Romans watched lions eat gladiators and Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the fate of Jesus, humans like to watch misery and destruction. Most people claim it’s a release from real life, but it’s not. Our misery fits better if we believe other people have it worse. We rubberneck auto accidents so we can be happy it’s not our car, not our pain. We complain that video games are violent, but the paid-to-be-mean actors of reality TV have become our heroes, and we are following their lead.

Before you go back to your guilty pleasure of reality TV, enjoy this incredible video clip of a woman remembering the childhood question “Will I be pretty?” (she is). And yes, it’s from a TV show that I watch.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and life/creativity coach.

Gallery

Non-Linear Journal

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Journaling is my meaning-making tool. I work at the intersection of color, words, design and illustration. It’s not perfect. It’s deeply personal. I call this soulful exploration Raw Art Journaling. For the past few nights, I’ve had dreams about a … Continue reading

Booster Cables for Your Creativity

Some days I can’t wait to run into the studio and work. Then there are days when I drag myself into the studio, slap my to-do list on the wall, and force myself to get to work. What makes the creative urge dry up? After the usual suspects–stress, too much to do, not enough sleep—comes the lurking fear, “I’ve finally used up all my ideas. There isn’t anything else.” It can feel stale, or it can bring real terror.

If you find yourself sitting in your studio, sweating and not working, it’s time for a break.

The creativity dry-up seems to be seasonal, related to the major changes in weather. Many feel it crushing down on them in fall and early winter, with darker days, heavy with clouds. No matter what the reason for creative shrivel, here are a few simple ways to climb out of it. First, grab your calendar and give yourself a day off. Even if you are busy. Particularly if you are busy.

1. Indulge in the creativity of other’s genius. Relieve yourself of the burden of creating. Listen to music without doing anything else. Sink into the melody, focus on the rhythm, write down the lyrics and wonder what the artist experienced to write those words. The further the music is from your comfort zone, the better.

Fingerpainting frees you of "shoulds"

2. Re-live an art activity you loved as a child. Fingerpainting. Collage. Coloring. All wonderful and tactile. Fingerpaint is still available and it still feels great to squish it through your hands and mix colors. No art medium smells as wonderful as a new box of crayons. Buy a new box and use only the colors you like to fill blank pages. Or buy a coloring book and color the way you never allowed yourself to color. This isn’t art, this is downtime.

3. Do something all wrong. The punitive, self-critical voice we carry in our heads may be at the heart of your creative dry spell. Deliberately do something wrong. Paint a purposefully ugly picture using only a sponge and sock. Go to the secondhand store, buy cheap, ugly plates, break them, and make a bad mosaic. And while you are there, buy some big clothing in outlandish colors and wear them while you are making bad art. Venting bad work lets the light in for good work.

4. Fire your inner critic. During your day off, your inner critic will let you know how bad it is to be wasting a day. Take a walk to expend some energy. When you get back, sit down and tell your inner critic he/she has been working too hard, hand over a cookie for the critic and give him/her the day off.

5. Be your own shaman. Walk through your house and pick up three objects that are beautiful to you at this moment. Look at them closely. Feel their texture. Inhale their smell. Do something that temporarily changes one of them—for example, if you picked up a stone, cover it in foil and see if you recognize it from that perspective. Embue these three objects with the power to change your life. Take them to your studio and give them a special place. Ask them to call forth creativity. Then leave your studio and let them work.

6. Invite over a friend. Call a friend who has an hour or so to visit. Sit down and take turns—each of you will bring a piece of your work that you love. Do ‘show and tell’ with your friend. Talk about what you loved about the piece, what made it special, what worked for you or the client. If you sold the piece, talk about that experience, too. During your friend’s turn, listen to the excitement, the joy, and nod. Ask for details. Smile and encourage. Get excited again.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Making the Most of Your Twitter Post

You only have 140 characters, what can go wrong? Plenty. As someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter, I can spot the pros and the ones in the clutches of an “SEO guru” and the well-meaning newbies. Here are seven tips to help you make the most of your Twitter post.

1. Use a link-shortener. If you are posting a link, use tinyurl or bit.ly or shortlink to compress the big urls into shorter ones. You’ll have more room left for content, and content is important if you have only 140 characters.

2. Don’t post just a link. Tell us what’s going to happen if we click on it. Is it a video, your blog post, a photo? If the link has adult content, it’s nice to add NSFW –Not Safe For Work.

Vague, misleading or hard-to-understand posts don't get you more readers.

3. Post for your future. Your Twitter posts will be around for a long time. If you are looking for a job, have a new job, or want to keep your current job, don’t write anything you don’t want anyone else to discover. The person who follows you today can see your tweets from last year. You are not alone in the sandbox.

4. When replying to a post, put a hint of the topic in the reply. A reply that says “I hate that :\ ” doesn’t give as much information as one that says “I hate seniority pay rather than merit pay.” A context-rich example will let others know your viewpoint, get you on more lists, and most of all, help the person to whom you are replying know what you are talking about.

5. Don’t add too many hashtags to your post. A hashtag (#)  in front of a word creates an entry in the Twitter index. If you visit hashtag.org, your discover a wiki index created when people post and add an index word. If this were a Tweet, I could end it with #tips, or #Tweettips, or #ImproveYourTweets. Many people think they’ll get more readers if they treat hashtags like keyword tags on blogs. Don’t be that guy.

6. Give more information rather than less. If you are replying to someone, treat it as a separate post, with content or context, not an IM. If you want to have a private conversation, use Direct Mesages–DM.

7. On Follow Friday, tell us why. Of course it’s nice to thank your friends by listing them. It’s even nicer to let others know whom they should follow and why. “Great fiction authors” or “Photographers with a sense of humor” is a better description than “#FF love to these folks.”

Quinn McDonald is a writer, trainer, and certified creativity coach. She’s @QuinnCreative on Twitter.

Marketing Yourself Too Much

A talented woman markets herself well, and as a result, her work is in several popular magazines. She adds some online classes. All this is good. Then she connects her blog to her Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and Second Life until you cannot escape her. Endless repetition of links to her classes, her YouTube channel, her other classes, her Etsy site. Did I mention her classes?
She does. A lot.

Marketing works fine, if you let it be about other people, too.

Finally, although I admire her style and like her work, I hid her updates on Facebook, de-feathered her on Twitter, and unLinked her. I still get the RSS feed to her blog. Every day the drumbeat is similar: a few spaces left in class X, new video on YouTube, another invitation from the Like Page, requests to vote for her ebook, book review and weekly photo entry. Oh, yeah, 4Square has declared her  the mayor of her town’s Monster energy drink shop.

Her work is excellent, but like the over-eager salesperson who stands too close, says too much, and pushes hard, all the repetition isn’t working. In fact, it’s having the opposite effect—it’s driving clients away.

What’s missing? A few things. She (and maybe you) might want to:

1. Tell a good story. Story-telling is an art. I’d be a lot more interested in someone’s classes if I knew what her inspiration was, what she was thinking when she created it, what delighted her and how she goofed in making it wonderful. Your clients want to relate to you, not feel engulfed by your talent, ability, and product. Good marketing makes your audience want to know you and your work, not be overwhelmed by it.

2. A different approach for different social networking sites. Twitter has a different audience than FaceBook, and most people who use social networking a lot have a dashboard like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, and don’t want to see the same information worded the same way across all social media outlets. Use a teaser with Twitter, a friendly touch on Facebook, and a tell people where those links will take them.

3. Be a little less available. I remember when everyone posted what they were having for lunch on Twitter—it became the scoffing point for doubters. Now I’m seeing hundreds of people telling me where they are every minute of the day. I’m not your mom. If you are an adult, you don’t have to announce where you are every minute. Otherwise, I’ll start replying to you to play nice, keep your elbows off the table and say “thank you, I had a nice time” before you leave.

4. Post links other than to your site. The “walled garden” approach to websites is dead. Don’t move it onto Twitter or Facebook. Adding useful links to sites other than yours gives you credibility and proves your discernment.

5. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. The best marketing involves a relationship between people. When you broadcast a steady stream of high-intensity information and don’t listen, you come across like the adult voices in the old Charlie Brown videos. Wah-wah-wah-wa-wa-wah. Breathe and let your clients talk back. Listen to what they say. They are asking you for something you can give them. Your attention.

--Quinn McDonald is a marketing writer and creativity coach. What ad or commercial makes you want to buy a product?