After the MacGuffin

The question that filled up my email box was, “Well, thanks for pointing out the MacGuffin in our life, but then what?” What do you do with the plot point you hang your life on? The belief that you build your story on? “My mom never encouraged my creativity, so now I don’t have any.” “My brother got the attention, so I have no self esteem.” Those stories. We spend a lot of time making other people wrong for our stories. Part of it is blame, and part of it is showing the world the statement is correct and has therefore ruined our life. Deep inside, we are still waiting for the prince to ride up to save us, or the sword in the stone to move under out hands. The magic you seek, however, is most likely hiding  in your own hands.

You'll have to walk your own road, but the hike can be beautiful. This one is in the sandstone sculptured slopes of the Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area on the Arizona/Utah border.

The sad thing is, we keep refreshing our MacGuffin. Over and over again. How should you change your story? Frankly, I don’t know. I’m not a therapist. But I believe that therapy can help free you. If you want. Unfortunately, if you keep going from therapist to therapist, repeating your story, it won’t fade. It will become a huge center pillar in your life, and you will be chained to it.

I’m also a life- and creativity coach, and a holder of my own MacGuffin, and I can suggest some ways to make the MacGuffin do the right thing, and fade by the third act of your life.These are just ideas, and if one of them resonates with you, take it for a spin through the next week or so and see what happens.

1. The MacGuffin excuse comes in two parts–naming the hurt, (“Mom never encouraged my creativity,”) and pointing to the consequence (“so now I’m not creative.”) Separate them. Make sure the second part is true on its own–without the first part. Are you really not creative? Are you sure? What’s your proof? Is your proof related to the first part of the statement? You might turn up something interesting.

2. If the second part is true on its own, then is the origin still important? We can’t change the past, so you can’t go back and un-do that part of your life. What has to happen right now to make your story shift focus? What can you do to change the direction of the story? In the case of a real MacGuffin in a screenplay, it is useful only until the audience find the main characters capable of overcoming difficulties in the plot. Ask your friends what is wonderful about you. Keep a list of behaviors, actions, accomplishments you can be proud of–even small ones. Write them down. Don’t trust them to your memory.

3. Ask yourself “Who would I be if the MacGuffin fades?” Imagine a great success you would love to have, for example, being a great creative writer.  Is that MacGuffin really keeping you from it? Could you start practicing that skill now? If you immediately say that you are too old, or too far along in another career, ask yourself another question–what can you do to start enjoying the experience itself? You don’t have to have another career, you just have to enjoy. Remember, you are letting the MacGuffin fade, so you aren’t looking for another reason for anger or blame, you are looking for your own power. Take a creative writing course, see what it feels like once you can hold your own power.

Take hiking boots. The trip may be steep going.

4. Art heals. If the topic of creative writing is too steep a mountain to climb, take a dance class, join a choir, learn to knit, sign up for a drawing class. Exploring what you are missing is the only way to discover it.

5. No one will do the work for you. No one will hand you a solution on a crystal platter –and if they did, you wouldn’t value it. Satisfaction, joy and success come from overcoming obstacles. Put on your hiking shoes, it’s going to be an interesting trek.

-Quinn McDonald no longer wonders what her life would have been like if she had gone to a Seven Sisters University,  had a mother who loved her or why the good girls didn’t get the attention the bad girls did. It just didn’t happen that way. She’s now busy living out her destiny.

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20 responses to “After the MacGuffin

  1. What is a seven sisters university? And it IS all about doing the work, to your ability, not quitting just because it gets hard or your main support evaporated. Life throws curves, but sometimes you can still catch the ball – just need a big enough mitt and fast thinking. I’m looking for fast thinking right now…

    • Bo–in the days of separate men’s and women’s universities, the Seven Sisters were the Ivy League for Women–seven liberal arts universities in the Northeastern U.S.:Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. Everything you said is true. . .and very hard to remember at the right time.

  2. I think it was you that brought that quote to our attention a short while back, and I was struck to the core by it’s absoluteness, and it’s absolute beauty. In that telling phrase we are given both the space to breathe and the very reason for doing so.

    If you mean all of us are connected, I agree, yes, of course. If you mean you and me, then with a delighted grin I agree, yes, of course!

  3. Quinn, I absolutely loved the MacGuffin post, and was beside myself searching for the right words with which to tell you so. What came up last night was the thought that, in the end, no matter what path, discipline, or technique we choose, it all boils down to just ‘doing the work.’ And here you are today saying that very thing in your own inimitable and beautiful way. I also had a poignant flash of synchronicity with your “Seven Sisters, etc” byline . . . yep, it all come down to our very own choices no matter what our circumstances were or now are. Love your viewpoint and writing, as always.

    • Yes, we are all required to “do the work.” The Talmud contains one of my favorite quotes about this–“You do not need to complete the task, neither can you put it down.” We are quite deeply connected, at a very basic level.

  4. … Hi Quinn, I’m from the West Indies.. Phil Lack’s bro.. I LOVE “Burn Notice”! …however, we ‘re probably WAAAY behind, episode-wise out here.. My sister turned me on to your ever-expanding kernels of insight.. You know, what’s true? I KNOW so much better, but when a comment is made about expanding my extensisve varieties of hobbies into commerecial ventures, I almost always counter “If I JUST ..had the money..”
    EVERYTHING we need, we already have..its just for us to accept these endowments into our Lives…
    No occurence or event is “good: or “bad”..just our Perception of same.

  5. In the middle of the night this week I was unable to sleep, so checked emails. There was your Martha Beck post so I ordered a kindle version of her book from Amazon in the wee hours of the morning. I am over half way through and she leads the reader eloquently through this very topic…without the use of the term Macguffin, however. I am deeply grateful for your suggestion. All of you readers-pay attention to these two women! They are on to something! What is in that Arizona water??

    • Martha Beck and I have some very similar ideas–I’m a lot older, but she was less afraid to trek after what she wanted earlier, so it balances out. What’s in the Arizona water? I don’t know, but there is a lot of fear in the air, and I think it makes you have to choose–fear or fearlessness.

  6. Hello Quinn. I found your Macguffin post very interesting, and this post more so. I think therapy can be wonderful, but I agree that we can get stuck in endless examination of the past – and also create NEW stories to hang ourselves up on. I like your practical suggestions. There are no panacea’s, but for me, painting, drawing, walking, writing are all cathartic and freeing. I love the concept of choosing to be happy. We can be unhappy or happy in response to life. One of the five top regrets people have on their death ed is not having realised they had a choice. Life can be tough and you can still be happy. Love your posts, Quinn

    • Krystyna, thanks for saying that. Happiness is a choice–we can’t choose what happens to us all the time, but we can choose our response. I wish I had learned that when I was 20–or maybe I simply didn’t believe it then. You are so right–and you have found the key to what makes coaching work–endless repetition of the past doesn’t help. It makes us sick. Look where you want to go, it’s the only way we’ll get there.

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