The Complicated Landscape of Loss

[Note: This post was previously called “The Geography of Loss.” After I hit “publish” I discovered/ remembered that Patti Digh, the author of several well-known self-discovery books, is writing a book and class with that title. On my own (Patti did not contact me)  I changed my title because the word “landscape” is less of the study (as geography is) and embraces more of where one finds oneself and includes the struggle of change and creation. (As the image below shows). I also have a chapter on Imagined Landscapes in Raw Art Journaling, and this change suits the whole experience better. ]

The week in Cincinnati was hard work, fun, interesting and well organized. North Light, my publisher, treated me well. Of  course, a company is made up of people, and the two people I spent most time with, Amy Jones (editorial) and Christine Polomsky (photographer) were patient, professional, and spoiled me. I would say, as I often do in my studio, “OK, time to change the watercolor brush

Christine getting a completed piece just right.

Christine getting a completed piece just right.

water,” and Amy or Christine would reach over and do it. (That never happens in the studio!) Amy stood in for Tonia Davenport, my editor, who is based in Phoenix. That means more work for both of them, too, as they communicate back and forth over details that Tonia can’t see and Amy has never read the text for. It’s enough to make their heads hurt and eyes water.

I met the design team, the cover designer, the sales and marketing staff. And for one solid week, I reproduced the art, step by step, for the book so Christine could photograph it.  At night, I’d edit the text, finish diagrams, and write the bits and pieces I’d left undone. I have never spent so much continuous time making art. (I have a day job– a thriving creativity coaching business as well as developing and teaching writing, from grammar to technical writing, to business clients. I own the company, but it’s still work.)

Christine directed and photographed every project in the book, but not  any of the illustrations –and there are a lot of them– scattered throughout journals, and done on separate pieces of paper. I thought they would be photographed this week, too. Nope, separate step. “When will that happen?” I asked, thinking maybe the next week. Nope, again. And when it is photographed, the artwork is kept until the book is delivered to make sure that nothing is lost and it’s all kept together.

Amy, numbering and describing photo files

Amy, numbering and describing photo files

That means I won’t see my journals and the free-standing pages, the covers, the folders, the contributors’ art until January of 2014. I wasn’t expecting that. And it doesn’t matter that I understand clearly why that needs to happen. It was a huge feeling of loss. I didn’t use “prepared” journals–these are my daily journals that I write in, figure stuff out in, and deal with life. And they are gone, for a long while.

Yes I can make more; yes its a privilege to have them in the book; yes, I will get them back, but my journals are part of my life in a very intimate way, and for now, they are missing. It triggered a lot of  emotion about “missing” happening in my life lately. The food I no longer eat, the changes to my behavior that’s healthier for me, the consequences of some decisions I’ve made, some health issues, the loss of a friend who was threatened about the changes in my life,  illness and bad news in my family group—things I don’t talk about on the blog or Facebook, because I believe that not every aspect of life is a sharable moment.

So there I was, facing the things I talk about–fear, sadness, mixed in with joy and relief (my part of the book is largely done!) but washed over by a huge sense of loss. I’d just finished reading Stella Pope Duarte‘s Writing through Revelations, Visions, and Dreams, and a powerful idea from her book came back.

Darkness is a teacher. If we look into the dark parts of our lives, we will encounter the truth, explore our dreams, come to term with our ghosts, and we will see parts of ourselves alive and well in the darkness, and they will live on in the characters we create

Or, in my case, not characters, but art. While re-creating a piece for the book, I brought with me letters from the friend I lost, menus and wrappers of food I no longer eat, photos of places I will never see again in the way I did when seen with those who won’t travel with me again.

The Landscape of Loss. © Quinn McDonald 2013, All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact Quinn--see contact box above page header image.

The Landscape of Loss. © Quinn McDonald 2013, All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact Quinn–see contact box above page header image.

I created a landscape from the shapes I use as icons and talismans–the wavy lines that connect us all, and I stitched over them to hold them in place. It was a piece of mourning and a piece of memory, and I will recognize it in a different way when it comes back to me in a year.

We can run from fear and pain, and then we will spend our lives running. We can hold still, let it catch up with us, wash over us. It will not drown or kill us, because the human spirit is resilient and grows, even in fear. It may not be fun to sit with hard emotions, but there is peace in it. And after peace, we change, and we continue the journey changed, but we are no longer hiding and afraid. And that, for me, is success.

Quinn McDonald has completed the Inner Hero book. It will be in book stores in January of 2014. She is now developing classes to go with the book. One of them will be about the landscape of loss.

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11 responses to “The Complicated Landscape of Loss

  1. This post hit me full force. I can’t say that I shared your feelings with the same intensity, but definitely with an intensity that I don’t normally feel when reading other blogs. Leaving all your material behind had to be so difficult, the feelings of loss unbelievable unless one has actually experienced it in their own life. Everyone feels loss differently and I would never say that I have felt it to the same degree as you have. You write, teach, and blog with such passion and that comes through in everything that you do whether it is a piece of art or one of your posts. To say that I am eagerly looking forward to reading your book would be an understatement. I get the feeling that the people from North Light share your passion, but on a different level, and will take good care of your journals and the other materials. When they come back to you in a year’s time, you will read through them with fresh eyes and probably feel the depth of emotion even more intensely. Meanwhile, I expect you need some down time, if that is even possible, to regroup and re-energize for your next artistic adventure. That’s the way adventures play out. You work your way through them visually, verbally, and emotionally, capturing their essence in your art work and through descriptions of how you came to these adventures and what it took to wrangle them from wispy bits in your dreams to appearing on a page. While a reader will never really know how much it took to put these images and words together to form a cohesive trail of thoughts, we will all appreciate the time and energy it took. This year will fly by and before you know it, the release date will be announced and when the magical moment comes and your book is released, I think I can safely say that we will hear your sigh of relief and hopefully you will hear our sighs indicating our enjoyment of every page.

    • I have complete trust in the team at North Light, and leaving the material has nothing to do with trusting them, it has to do with not having the journals with me. When I moved to Phoenix, I left Cooking Man behind in D.C. to sell the house. What we thought would be a month turned into a year. It was necessary, but not something I would have chosen voluntarily.

      I didn’t have a photo shoot with the first book, so this was a new experience for me. Yes, the way years have been racing by, this one will, too. I don’t do well with down time; I have work to catch up on in the business side of my life. It’s good for me not to be bored. And hearing sighs of delight would be a great start to the book launch!

  2. This is a beautiful piece. Honest and strong, words of resilience, forward movement. Thank you.

  3. There is much to think about for me here Quinn. And after reading your response to Kristin, even more. When I have let pain be really acknowledged, really felt . . .somehow I can understand it better and when it goes I know and appreciate my strengths and resilience even more.

    By working with the word content, or contents, I seem to be finding honour at the heart of it all, or at the heart of me. A big thank you today.

  4. Sounds like you had a great, productive week at North Light. Congrats on getting this huge step behind you!

    I’m sure it was a shock to the senses to realize you won’t have your journals back for a year. I’m trying to process how I would feel about something like that (something that meant so much to me and that I had such a personal investment in) and the first thing that comes to mind is that I would be worried something would happen to them and I would lose them forever. That kind of thinking controlled a lot of my decisions and actions in earlier years. Since realizing this, I am working on acceptance. Accepting those things that are beyond my control. It’s certainly not easy but I decided that I don’t want to dwell on things I can’t change. The biggest thing that comes to mind is when my father passed away last year, I didn’t have access to many of his belongings…mementos, photos, cards/letters, memorabilia from his time spent in two wars, etc. In my earlier years, I felt a lot of anger just knowing that I wouldn’t have access to these things but as I’ve thought about it through the years, I came to a place of acceptance and peace.

    Hopefully, this will turn into a new journey for you…new writings, new musings, new ideas. Just like you wrote, “After peace, we change, and we continue the journey changed, but we are no longer hiding and afraid. And that, for me, is success.”

    • You have gone through more loss than most people do in a dozen lifetimes; so you know a lot about dealing with loss, Traci. And I’ve learned a lot from watching you. One of the big lessons I’ve learned, and it applies to small losses and big losses is–I may not like it, but that does not mean I am obliged to change it, refuse it, or be angry about it. Accepting it is not a sign of weakness; it can be a sign of growth.

  5. Quinn…thanks for the words shared today. A list of thoughts in my journal for writing prompts. Loss, so many shades of what this is to each of us as we ramble along on our path..taking steps down places we had never anticipated nor imagined, sometimes with confidence, sometimes with uncertainty. Most delicious, challenging pieces from you to me this day.

    • I had to add more to the piece, making it long and difficult–but necessary. We can run from pain, or we can let it wash over us and survive. There’s a lot of strength to be learned there.

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