Category Archives: Creativity

Ideas, thoughts, ‘Aha!’ moments

The Mistakes that Build Success

When I opened the book at the client location, I nearly fainted. The material in the box on p. 6 was completely garbled. No words, just a collection of letters and numbers. It’s a mistake clients get upset over. I hadn’t checked the books because the printer had printed them before, and done it correctly. And there were three other pages where the material in the sidebar was a graphic element, but didn’t make sense.

The ladder to success can often look like a bleak staircase.

The ladder to success can often look like a bleak staircase.

I saw my opportunity at this client slipping downhill, fast. Trying to make it a teachable moment, I pointed it out to the participants. I explained that no matter how often something seems routine, we don’t know what happens at the printer–new people, new software, new techniques. Every book delivery needs proofing.

There are two points to making a mistake work for you. The first is to admit it. The second it to fix it. Checking with the person who organizes the class, I made sure she could distribute to the whole class. She agreed that if I sent her the pdf of the book, she could distribute it.

I told the class they would receive a pdf of the book to use. A few members were disgruntled and said this kind of mistake shouldn’t happen, and they would note it on the evaluation. Even though the mistake was fixed, the emotional damage was done. I spoke to one participant in particular, and he said if he were my supervisor, he’d fire me for such a mistake. And he would complain to the training department. I’m sure he will.

Mistakes happen. They need to be taken in context. The Powerpoint I had with me showed the material correctly. There were four pages with mistakes on portions of the page. I’m not trivializing my error, but taken in context, it didn’t diminish the learning possible in the class.

I’m a big proponent of learning from mistakes, it’s unfortunately the way most of us learn best. We never think, “Wow, that presentation really went well. Was it because I practiced or because I decided not to use a PowerPoint or studied up on potential questions?” Nope. If we do well, we feel lucky. But we learn more from mistakes.

Those people who don’t make mistakes are people who aren’t trying hard enough. Or who hide their mistakes or blame them on others. And those people, in many corporations, and in the government, are often the people who rise to the top. Or maybe I should say “float” to the top. By dodging mistakes, they look blameless. Notice I said blameless, not faultless.

They dodge and weave the effects of their mistakes. Because they make lots of mistakes–everyone does–they learn how not to get caught. Then they believe the problem is getting caught, not making a mistake. Admitting the mistake would teach them something. Instead, they bury their learning experience. I’d respect someone who made a mistake and admitted it and knew how to fix it and prevent it.

It would be an excellent idea if corporations encouraged mistake-learning early, and promoted people who solved their own problems and had the integrity to admit mistakes and the problem-solving ability to prevent them from happening again. That’s someone to admire and promote.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer, writer and mistake maker. She lives with all of it.

The Moment of Autumn

The coming of autumn happens early in the East. Sometime in August, the first crisp days start. Leaves turn, winds frisk, temperatures drop. Fall comes in differently in Phoenix. The days stay hot, often in the high 90s, but the night time temperatures drop from the 90s to the 70s. Doors and windows let in cool air. Last year it happened around September 12. This year it started the last week of September. The wind shifts from the South to the West. Fall is, quietly, here.

I start walking in the morning again. Flowers start to bloom again.  Migrating birds show up, slowly at first.

The subtle changes mredake you pay attention more closely. You look at every slight change in the oranges, which have started to grow again. The recent storm pushed over two dozen trees in the neighborhood, making me glad I spent the money to have mine trimmed to let wind pass through.

There will still be hot days, but it feels safe to exhale, to go out without a hat.

Fall in Phoenix is a lot like keeping a gratitude journal—the more you notice, the more you see to notice. These are the weeks that the son finally loses the battle with the horizon. The days shorten  enough to keep the temperature down. I celebrate New Year in the fall, because it feels like survival and rebirth all in one

–Quinn McDonald waits all summer for this moment of Fall

Ask for What You Need

I find it almost impossible to ask for special treatment at a restaurant. I know many people ask for special diets because they need them and have real allergies. I also know that many people want attention, control or simply want to be on a popular bandwagon and demand gluten-free, dairy-free, or meat-free dishes in public, while scarfing down bread, milkshakes and wings at home.

The Local is at 3rd St. and Roosevelt in Phoenix.

The Local is at 3rd St. and Roosevelt in Phoenix.

No one pretends to be diabetic. Diabetes, popular culture informs us, is a disease of weak, fat people. It is our fault we are diabetic, never mind genetics or that every food company within reach adds sugar, artificial sugar or “natural” sugars to keep consumers addicted to the sweet taste of. . . mustard, pickles, and bacon. All of which have added sugars.

I cringe at asking serving staff if there is honey in salad dressing, red wine or sugar in the sauce, or what is used to thicken the sauce. Often the server doesn’t know, and assures me that the dish is glueten-free. Great, but I don’t have a problem with gluten. When I tell the server I’m diabetic, I get shrugs or, “Can’t you just take something for that?” In short, no. And I no longer explain why.

Last night, I decided that unless wait staff and servers are mind-readers, I have

Adam Hargett (left), manager at The Local and Chef McKinley (right).

Adam Hargett (left), manager at The Local and Chef McKinley (right).

to ask for what I need. Because it’s my health and my body.

We (two couples) were eating at The Local in Phoenix. The staff knew it was my birthday, and brought me a glass of champagne, which I accepted and passed to my right, to someone who would enjoy it.

When the menus were passed and the server asked if we had questions, I asked if I could have my dish served without potatoes. I took a deep breath and said I was diabetic and could not eat potatoes. The waiter summoned the chef out of the kitchen. I’m married to a chef, and asking for the chef’s presence at a table is a serious occasion. Still, Chef Chris McKinley appeared, smiling. I wanted to know if I could substitute something for the potatoes. After all, striking an item from the dish unbalances the flavors of the entire course.

The chef said he could substitute farro, a low-glycemic-index wheat, for the potatoes. And he could make a vinaigrette without honey for the salad. I was amazed at how generously he made the substitutions. The server placed the meal in front of me, assuring me of the substitutions, as there was another order for the original dish. Both the salad and the main course were delicious.

In fact, the entire meal was delicious. I did not feel deprived, I felt heard and valued. It may not sound like much, but I had asked for what I needed and someone listened.

Keeping quiet out of fear makes no more sense than speaking up out of privilege. Health issues are not easy to discuss, but taking a calm stand makes it possible for others to know what you want and to help if they can. Asking for what you need is a step in the direction of self-care. And not expecting others to care for you more than you do for yourself.

Quinn McDonald will be back at The Local, because the food is excellent and the service attentive. The sticky toffee pudding, shared by the others at the table, comes highly recommended. The Local was named the best new restaurant in Phoenix by New Times magazine.

 

 

Splatter as Art

Ever dropped paint on the floor and gasped at the mess? Hua Tunan splatters deliberately and does a great job of it. As an artist, he combines traditional Chinese art with graffiti.

splatter-ink-animal-portraits-by-hua-tunan-3The combination are magical. The splatters combine to form realistic art that has depth and power.

splatter-ink-animal-portraits-by-hua-tunan-10He calls his street art “noncommissioned art,” a way of keeping his own artistic integrity and still making his art public.

I have (still) a deep appreciation of artists who are true to their own vision.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.

Checking on the Word of the Year

This time of year the time seems to pick up speed and race toward the end of the year. The days are noticeably shorter and we begin to become more focused on the end of the year.

A good time, then to check in with your word of the year. Is it still serving you well? Are you satisfied with your choice? How often do you think of it or consider what it means in your life?

Half-way through the year, I changed my word from “scatter” to “distill.” It was

It's not a painting; it's an open space in the wall, overlooking Arizona's desert. Beyond is the Bar-T-Bar ranch, with the San Francisco mountain range in the background.

It’s not a painting; it’s an open space in the wall, overlooking Arizona’s desert. Beyond is the Bar-T-Bar ranch, with the San Francisco mountain range in the background.

worthwhile. “Scatter” was what was happening to my life–too many open doors, too many choices to keep them all balanced. What started out as some far-flung ideas ended up as not getting enough of the right work done.

It was less of a paring down and more of a taking the essence of my work–distilling–that worked well. I’m glad I made the switch.

How do I weigh the choice? I write the word on random calendar days and see what has happened since the last time I considered it. Because I look at my calendar on the weekly view before the daily view, I see the word coming and going through the week.

Tell me how you remember your word and what it has meant to you so far.

-Quinn McDonald loves watching words make meaning, whether or not she changes them.

Life in Small Details

Maira Kalman’s vision of the world is by turns, quirky, wonderful, intriguing and 24671359absurd. Her 2007 book, The Principles of Uncertainty is her diary of one year in her life. It covers the absurdity of life– p. 122 reads, “Which leads me to my candy collection. The JEWEL of the collection is the CRATCH bar, purchased in Cuba. It sounds like a disease more than a candy trat, and I like to imagine the naming session.”

There are several pages of her collections–egg slicers, suitcases, sponges. She draws them all. The book is really an art journal-each page a full color illustration of some aspect of the day. Some of the pages relate to each other, others do not. Kalman is interested in whether or not people know who they are, an always interesting question.

© Maira Kalman

© Maira Kalman

The simplicity of this post and the depth of what it did and didn’t say, is fascinating.

Go to Google Images and type in her name, you will find dozens of Kalman’s illustrations. The book is both an inspiration and a journal prompt all its own. It’s an autobiography and a diary. Kalman may be the best emotional multi-tasker I know. And a mental magpie, collecting ideas and emotions at random.

kalman-coffee1

© Maria Kalman

What I love most about the book is that she was not afraid to write and illustrate an odd, fascinating, philosophical, funny book that doesn’t fit into a common genre, and, I imagine, defended it to an editor or agent. Still, quirky and odd, the book is 63,500 on the amazon.com list. (The hour I checked.) Compared say, to Kitty Kelly’s book on Oprah, which is 96,100 and two years younger. Or Stephen King’s Carrie, which is ranked at 61,380, and a perennial best-seller.

Why, that gives hope to all of us journalers of details.

Quinn McDonald loves to take a peek at other people’s lives.

Light on the Intensity

Life is jammed with detail, color, reactions, music, noise–both visual and felt. I’ve been working on ways to re-write the past in a way that lightens the darks and fades the shadows. Could I do the same thing visually?

Today was a day of too-saturated color, too much high dudgeon, too vivid emotions. Dramatic clients, fierce news, people shrilling for attention, credibility, everyone demanding to be heard and admired.

Poppies. Graphite, watercolor, pen on watercolor paper.

At the end of the day I was exhausted without having done any heavy lifting. So I decided to draw some cheerful flowers. Poppies are always cheerful, breezy. But the colors were too much, too bright, too assertive on my retina’s rods and cones. (Rods distinguish light; cones distinguish color. There are more rods, but they are not as sensitive as cones.)

Looking for another way to tone my day down,  I did the equivalent with drawing. Using my monotone gray Art Graf Stix, I drew the poppies, using shades of gray and black. I added very faint touches of red-orange and blue-red. Just a touch.

The final effect is light and airy without too much burden of color or detail. For right now, that suits me perfectly. Tomorrow may be different.

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to explore the drawing side of writing from time to time.

10 Commonplace Journal Ideas

For more than a week, I’ve posted about journaling and Writing Yourself Whole. It’s not always easy to keep a journal, so why do it? Who cares? Who will ever look at all that writing? The answer is simple: this is your life. You are keeping track of it. Your journals are not for your children to admire, your friends to share, and strangers to copy.

The journal you keep is to document your life. To prove you were alive. To write history the way you experienced it. Many of us don’t watch news because we are overwhelmed. Our own lives overwhelm us. Journaling puts you in control. Write about what happened at work, how you reacted, what you really thought. Putting it down helps us look at our reactions, our emotions, at arm’s length.

What else can you put in a journal? I’m a big fan of a Commonplace Journal--a journal that connects closely to what happens to you every day. Here are some ideas of what to put in a journal that will make it interesting to you:

1. Weather. Rain, sunshine, wind changes how we see the world and how we feel about it. A bright crisp day brings on different thoughts than low clouds and rain. Write down the temperature, the kind of day it was, and how you felt.

2. Movies. Glue the ticket stub into your journal and write a few sentences about the content and your level of enjoyment. You can do the same for movies you watch at home. Was it a good plot? Were the characters believable? Did you like a character or hate another one?

3. Food. I’m not talking about a food diary. What did you eat that was delicious? Do you remember what you had for breakfast? Is food an enjoyable experiences or just something to get over with? What was your favorite snack today? What would you like to remember to cook more often?

4. Music. What did you listen to that made you feel like dancing or singing? Do you have a favorite singer or performer? If you could create a soundtrack to your life, what five songs would you include? Maybe you don’t listen to music or even like it much. What’s the background noise to your life?

5. What’s the cost? How much did you pay for a tank of gas? How much for milk? Eggs? Liptstick? The price of the small chunks of life rises and falls, but it also creates a sort of set point in your life.  Compare the price to a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas and think about what you get from each. As you get older, you will think things are different than they used to be. Now you’ll be able to check.

6. Titles. Create a whole page of titles you like. Book titles, song titles, the names of restaurants, hair salons, or any other name or title that makes you smile or think. You fill it as you go along. Keeping it all on one page gives you a fascinating look at your sense of humor.

7. Maps and diagrams. Where did you go? What route did you take? Do you always take the same road to work? To the store? What other route could you take, even if it is longer or slower? Is speed the most important part of travel? What does that mean about your sense of time or necessity?

8. Quotes. Not just famous quotes you come across, although that’s handy to write down. What people in your life said that made sense, was funny, was ridiculous. What you said in return. Keeping track of dialogue makes you a better listener, a smarter speaker, and a wiser soul.

9. What catches your eye? Ads, headlines, photos, good designs. Cut them out of magazines, or photograph them and print them out.  I photograph the wallpaper in hotels. I’m amazed at how many of them are interesting abstract designs.

10. Spend time in your journal. Look back over old journals. Has your taste changed? Your ideas? The music you like? Your life is a mosaic and you can decide on the shape and color you want it to take. Watching it change over time is part of growth.

Keeping a journal doesn’t require daily deep soul-searching. It’s a way to keep track of the tiny grit that you turn into the pearls of your life.

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a creativity coach.

 

 

The Slow Work of Change

My thanks to everyone who participated in the last week of Writing Yourself Whole. And thanks also for your generous contributions. I was happy to see that so many people participated. Your generous contributions will help many homeless families in Phoenix have clean and safe drinking water. Thank you so much for that, too.

Now what? Taking a course online doesn’t really lend itself to community. You might have felt that you were falling behind by the second day. Maybe it was hard to concentrate, or when you sat down, your mind went blank. If you thought, “I need more time to write,” but didn’t get started, you have encountered the most common stumbling block to self-care through journaling.

Like anything else, journaling takes practice. Writing down your thoughts and looking at them is hard. You want to avoid some hard thoughts. Pema Chodron, in her book, When Things Fall Apart, tells us to lean into the sharp points, but who wants to do that?

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

Journaling is hard work. It is not always fun to know our weak spots. It’s certainly not fun to work on the weak spots. But the effort itself can be invigorating, and the effort is always worth it. Stick with deep journaling and you will learn what you need to learn about yourself. You will begin to accept yourself and those around you. Your life will become brighter, and you will begin to enjoy the happiness you build.

Journaling takes practice. You don’t have to delve into yourself every day. There are other ways to journal–and you can mix them up any way you like. Tomorrow’s blog will help you with some ideas about journaling.

Keep building inner heroes. You are filled with sparks of joy and healing. With flashes of understanding and beauty. Gather them to you and build a fire that keeps your heart and soul warm and that lights your path.

—Quinn McDonald has returned to journaling with many emotions. She’s glad she did, though.

Too Much Explaining

If you grew up and had a classical education, you didn’t learn how to do a job, you learned how to think. You were introduced to a lot of ideas, people, concepts, books, and philosophies. You weren’t told which were “right” (in some ways, they all were), you learned how to have an opinion and discuss it. There, I’ve said it.

ulyss1_1703249c_2236465cSometimes, when I’m teaching, I realize that classical education is not only old-fashioned, it’s frowned upon. So, a checklist: simplify vocabulary and most of all, simplify references to ideas, people, and philosophies.

Me [to class]: OK, time for a 15-minute break. Be back at 10:15 or we’ll be here till the rosy-fingered dawn appears tomorrow. [Immediately regrets reference to Homer's Odyssey.]

Student: Is that, like, a song lyric?

Me: Sort of. It’s from a Greek epic poem.

Student: Say what?

Me: [Feeling lost about how much to explain.] It’s one of the long poems from ancient Greece. About a man who leaves home to fight in a war and takes a long, interesting road trip back.

Student: Oh. Who wrote it?

Me: Homer.

Student: [Looking puzzled.]  Simpson?HO_Close_display-1

Me: [Tries not to break down crying.]

I just don’t know when to shut up explaining myself and my now, too-long-ago references that make sense to me, but not to anyone who was born in the last 30 years. OK, 40 years, maybe 45.

ENHS2089T-mamie-eisenhower

Mamie Eisenhower, wife of the 34th President of the U.S.

To a beautician: My bangs are waaaay too long. I’d like something more Natalie Wood but not Mamie Eisenhower.

Beautician: I think I heard of Natalie Wood is, but who is Mamie Eisenhower?

Me: The wife of Dwight Eisenhower.

Beautician: [crickets]

Me: The 34th President of the United State.

Beautician: Oh. Was she, like, famous? For her hair?

And once more, I’m stuck. How much do I explain? How do I not feel like I just fell out from the pages of a yellowed history book? It got worse.

936full-natalie-wood

Natalie Wood, movie star. Married to Robert. . . never mind.

Me: Mamie Eisenhower was the First Lady right before Jackie Kennedy.

Beautician: [crickets]

Me: Jackie O?

Beautician: Wasn’t  Jackie O. a famous model–like for sunglasses?

Me: She was beautiful and she wore sunglasses, but she was married to Jack Kennedy. After he was assassinated. . . [slowly starting to cut short the explanation], she married a rich guy in Greece.

Beautician: [Saves the day] So how do you want your bangs?

Next checklist:  Can’t afford a face lift, but can update all references to people, places and things prior to 1990.

—Quinn McDonald is determined not to sound as old as she looks.