Category Archives: Inner Critic

“Authentic” versus “Cool”

It’s the second time I’ve fallen for it. Someone I know posts something out of character on Facebook. I reply in some non-committal way, although I think the action reported is surprising. Turns out it’s a “joke” and the person who fooled me now wants me to post one of six out-of character replies to fool others.

Seems harmless enough, except it makes me feel vaguely uneasy. Then comesmean-girls-les-miz-2-w352 the private message, “Don’t be a party pooper. Choose one of these six messages and post it on your timeline. Everyone who falls for it has to do the same thing. Don’t break the chain.”

It sounds so. . . junior high. For me, it falls into the crank prank category. I don’t want to play along. I don’t want to fool other people. I don’t want to post something falsely ridiculous about myself on Facebook. But I feel like a party pooper. Straight-laced. Stiff.

So, I consider it. That pull to be included. Such old stuff. And then I realize that I already know my values. And the other person was trying to get me to be in her pool because. . . it was not about me. She didn’t want to be alone in her embarrassment, her being-pointed-at.

It is not in me to make others look foolish. To post something odd, then trick people into showing concern, then tell them they were fooled and should pass it on. It seems hurtful. And in a flash, I know I won’t do it. I suddenly don’t care about being cool or playing along. My authentic self is, in fact, slightly stuffy and formal.

badideabearbloggerPeer pressure, whether goofy in grade school, cruel in middle school, or dumb and dangerous in high school is still peer pressure. And finally, after all these years, I realize that caving in to peer pressure will not make me cool. It will make me feel bad about myself. And authenticity, complete with awkward unsureness, is worth its weight in self-respect.

—Quinn McDonald is OK with being a geek. Because it’s authentic geekiness.

Taking a Compliment

“What a nice blouse!”

“This old rag? I just wear it to clean house.”
screen-shot-2014-02-27-at-10-13-14If you are a woman, you are familiar with this. (Men take compliments more easily). But for women, a compliment has to be denied, shoved back, or minimized.

At an art show, I complimented an artist on her work. “It’s really easy,” she replied, “I just threw some paint on the canvas.” I’ll bet she didn’t, and once she diminished her own work, I found the price a bit high. After all, if she really “just threw paint” on the canvas, it took no planning or thought.

Of course she worked hard on the canvas. Of course she worried about it. But the 3632-What-Happens-When-A-Girl-Refuses-A-Compliment-Funny-SMS-Conversation-Picturesecond a compliment floats her way, she had to pretend to be someone with no talent, who happens to make a living painting. Why? Because it hurts to admit one has talent, skills, beauty, intelligence, or even good taste. If you own your attributes, you are responsible for them. All the time.

All that may seem like too much work. So we bat away compliments. We don’t want to own them. Most women have also been trained to be humble–particularly older women. We don’t want to seem “full of ourselves,” or risk a “swelled head.” So we deny, deny, deny.

Eventually we believe that we are talentless shlubs who can barely breathe and cross the street at the same time. That doesn’t serve anyone.

First, when you get a compliment, all you need to do is smile, and say, “Thank you!” It’s not hard to do this is you immediately think that you are making the person who paid you the complement happy.

Then, there’s a bit of work to do on yourself. Why don’t you want to be talented, smart, loving, or whatever you got a compliment for? What meaning do you attach to a compliment that makes you shrink from it? Pretend, for the next hour, the compliment is true. Just for an hour. Then you can give it up. If you still want to.

P.S. It helps to give a compliment if you make it about you instead.  “Seeing you in that blouse will make me happy all day,” is a compliment that’s hard to turn down.

I read a great quote  the other day. It wasn’t attributed, so I can’t send a compliment to anyone for writing it: “It took me a long time to discover who I was not, only then did I discover who I was.”

P.S. For language lovers. “Compliment” (with an i) means a kind expression or praise. You can remember that it’s spelled with an “i” because it’s nice to receive one and nice also has an i in it.

Complement (with an e) is something that fills up or completes something else. “The book cover art was a perfect complement to the chilling story inside.” It means to complete.

--Quinn McDonald has some problems with complements herself. That’s why she writes about it.

Daily Practice

Practice is necessary to learn anything. Practicing art is another word for getting better.

Practice can take a lot of different shapes. Right now, I’m working on minimalist collage. I was finding it difficult to be as minimal as I wanted to be, so I gave myself permission to do a very busy, color-jammed collage.

When you give yourself permission, your inner critic will show up and tell you that you’ll never sell this “trial and error” pieces. That’s right. You won’t. But I’m not experimenting to sell, I’m experimenting to get better. And unless I try one thing, I won’t know if it works, if I want to do more, or where I need to do some more work.

Here’s the busy piece I did, using a lot of color and largely rectangular or square shapes. Of course, there was a piece of map that didn’t “belong.”

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And here’s the piece I did after that. I found three pieces of paper buried at the bottom of my stash–a highly textured blue and green and a sheet printed with stars. I decided to add a fourth color–the orange Monsoon Paper piece. The moon is cut out of the same Monsoon Paper piece, but flipped over, so the color blending on the back shows up.

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Both pieces are very different. And because I gave myself permission to play with the first piece and was very strict with myself that I had to “get some minimal work done” with the second piece, it turns out that I like the first piece better.

Sometimes, in our need for perfection, we forget to play. When we allow ourselves to play, our creative work is better, looser, and more free than the one we put all the constrictions on.

Play is a part of getting better at what you do. Don’t push it out of your life.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves collage.

Experience the World

Every action you take sends ripples out and changes the world. That sounds pretty grandiose, particularly if we live isolated lives. But we don’t.

ContractA client who doesn’t pay on time causes me to use the experience to write up a stricter contract with a clause that charges interest. Maybe a potential client, one who pays well, avoids me because of that.

A relationship that falls apart through a breaking of trust causes the hurt person in the relationship to be more guarded in the next relationship.

The pain you experience in life gets passed on to the next, often innocent,  party. The person who has shown every reason to be trusted gets the brunt of the previous relationship–the one that broke down. Is that what experience is?

Questions I wonder about:

1. Does this happen with good experiences, too? Do I remove the interest clause when a client pays on time? (Probably not. I’ll see that as an aberration, still believe in the “norm” of the non-paying client set.)

2. How does experience change how we see the world–and does it always have to be protective or negative?

3. Is there a personal statute of limitations on a bad experience? How many people in our lives have to pay for the one who hurt us?

-–Quinn McDonald wonders about the emotional experience of how we expect the world to treat us.

Cutting Short Studio Time

Yesterday, I mentioned having a ritual to get you into the studio. Today we are going to take a look at why we leave the studio before we are done–emotionally or physically.

20130303-211539Whether you write or draw, paint or sew, at some point you put down your work and leave the studio. That instant is significant in your creative building. What happens in your head and heart just as you leave the studio defines how easy it is to come back and work again.

If you have trouble returning regularly, and you think of the studio fondly while you are in a meeting or watching soccer practice,  you have a priority conflict. But if you find yourself doing laundry, dusting or making the bed, it’s not a priority problem, you are putting off going to the studio.

There are many reasons we put off going back in. The first thing my coaching

Fully realized dustbunnies.

Fully realized dust bunnies.

clients usually mention is fear of failure. But I don’t think so. I think we fear success. If we do something wonderful in the studio, we are responsible for it. We have to own our own creativity, our creation and the power of being a creator. Better to search for dust bunnies than be powerful. Owning our own power is often hard, even if we want to be famous or recognized. Because once we have created something, there is responsibility in creating more. Doing it again. Competing to outdo ourselves.  Explaining success. Easier just to let it slide.

Sometimes we leave the studio right before a breakthrough, before that Aha! Moment changes our lives. It is so much easier to cut short the revelation, the hard truth, the secret we hide. Ah, but what we resist, persists. And then refusing to return seems like a good idea. We need to “take a break,” or we need to “work it out.” Take your break in the studio. Work out your truth in the studio. Because no place else is your studio–the space dedicated to your own creation, your own growth. That’s where the magic happens–right after the sweat and fear. Stay. Wait for the magic. Give it a chance.

Tomorrow: Tips for returning to the studio with anticipation.

-Quinn McDonald has experience studio reluctance. That’s the only time her house is clean.

Dust bunny image: http://rubyreusable.com/artblog/?cat=110
Comfort zone image: http://www.proteinandpumps.com/breaking-out-of-my-comfort-zone/

 

The Aha! Moment

After two articles on bullying, I spent some more time processing my emotions around the incident. I’ve done stand-up comedy, and knowing what is funny to an audience and the timing of delivery is key to humor.

Pushable button image from http://meridianvitality.com

Pushable button image from http://meridianvitality.com

And then I had an Aha! Moment. In all the years I was super fat (I had a mirror, so I know), and people said hateful things to me (when I was in the middle seat of an airplane, for example) I actually felt sorry for them. I did not feel shame or diminished. I loved to eat (still do), and knew that fat people are one of the few groups we feel free to openly bash. I was capable of compassion.

Because I was not a fat child, I had no buttons to push.

But the incident at Trader Joe’s  pushed all those buttons I had embedded a long time ago.

So the work I have to do is around healing those pushable buttons is about feeling fine about being different. Taking pride in being an outsider. Because when you are outside, you have a bigger view. You aren’t hemmed in. And while everyone inside is bathed in light, it doesn’t guarantee acceptance or happiness.

A good thought for Friday the 13th.

--Quinn McDonald is moving on with a lighter step. (Carefully checking for a banana peel.)

 

Writer (or Artist’s) Glut

Image from Scooter in the Sticks.

Image from Scooter in the Sticks.

Most creative people eventually hit that edge-of-the-horizon feeling that you’ve come to the crumbly brink of your creative world. The next idea doesn’t show up on time. Missed the train. The next train doesn’t show up at all. The track rolls itself up and over the edge of the horizon, leaving you standing alone, squinting as the hot sun burns out the edge of the sky and drops below your line of vision, sending your last hope of creativity into the twilight shadows. Night descends and leaves you standing without a shadow to rely on.

Big_waveIf you have never experienced this feeling, you probably aren’t trying hard enough to push your creativity. And before you crack your knuckles to leave me a blistering reply that you always have ideas, stop. This is about you. This post is about having too many ideas, too much of an idea, an idea that rolls in like a giant wave, flattening you against the floor of your studio, pressing you down until bubbles float from your nose and you can’t inhale. That kind of creative overflow.

It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, it is overwhelming. I’ve been creative long enough to know that when the dark side of the world appears, it signals the long roll into dawn. But crushed with too many ideas, I feel afraid–I’ll lose the most important one, I’ll develop the wrong one, I won’t be able to figure out the process of this brilliant idea over here. Now what?

The simplest idea I came up with is to save as many of those ideas as possible, get them into some form you can understand, and save them. You can figure out process later. You can figure out sequencing later. What you need to do now, before your short-term memory sneaks out the back door, is get some of the ideas caught.

My two favorite ideas for capturing represent the high tech and low tech spectrum. Index cards, my long-time companions and art supply, are the low tech side. I write down the bare bones idea. Just enough to balance the memory on the tee, so I can whack it across the sand trap and out of danger. No big discussion, no marketing, no audience. Just the rough idea is plenty. If you can’t reconstruct it later, it may not have been as wonderful as you first imagined.

The second idea is a voice-recording app on your smart phone. The one you want to install is the one you know how to work. My first one was incredibly easy to use, but I couldn’t figure out how to play it back. You can imagine how that little fault messed with my mind. Occasionally I still believe the best ideas of my life are wrapped around the gizzards of my iPhone. The new one works better.

Don’t edit. Don’t worry. In fact, I generally don’t read or sort the ideas for several days after a brainstorm. I’m too critical. Or too immediate. I toss the index cards into a box and let them dry out. I’ll take a nice patina’d idea over a damp one, any day.

What’s your storage/retrieval system when your ideas back up and pour over you?

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people put life to their creative ideas.

Your Creative Work and Your Story

You are a story-teller. Even if you are not a writer, your life tells a story. It is your story. You get to tell it. If you start adding pieces of other people’s story, your plot line will suffer. If you start telling it to please others, and change your story for their approval, your story drifts and disconnects from you.

Poem1Today, while doing a demo of Monsoon Papers, someone asked me if the pieces of paper could be framed as is.

“Sure,” I said, “if that’s what you want. I see the pieces as colors and textures to use in collage or art journals.” The woman asked if I had any pieces of my artwork made with Monsoon Papers with me. I did. I showed her a piece (not the one shown here). She looked and asked what it meant. I invited her to explore what the image meant to her. She frowned slightly and said, “A good piece of art speaks for itself. And this one needs you to tell me what it means. So there is something incomplete about it.”

What a surprising statement. How can art speak for itself? A realistic drawing might be of something recognizable, but even that leaves a lot open for interpretation.

Good art and good stories do not always speak for themselves. They leave the door open for content (which the artist supplies) and context (which the viewer supplies). Together, the same image can mean something entirely different to several viewers.

I found a great poem by Billy Collins that explains this perfectly:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hod it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all thy want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room

-–Quinn McDonald realizes how much she has to learn every time she asks someone else to speak and she listens to them.

Being Yourself

We want to work like a CEO, delegate like the managing partner of a law firm, produce wonderful art like whoever is popular right now and smile like a Orbits chewing gum commercial.

Become-who-you-areWe rarely want to be just like ourselves. Flawed, working hard, trying to be better is wonderful. It keeps us busy and mindful of change. But when we always aspire to be better, smarter, cooler, and other-than-us, we don’t get to be ourselves very much.

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself,” Miles Davis said.

It takes time to discover all the parts of you, sort them out, and make something of them. The best way to do that is to focus on the parts of you, instead of comparing the parts to someone else and falling short. Focusing on the you that exists already helps you discover who you are, what you like, what you want to do with your talent. Comparing yourself to others shows you what you are not, what you lack.

And lack is the home of the inner critic. Bring out The Assembler of the Pieces of You as an inner hero and celebrate all the parts of you that are marvelous.

Quinn McDonald is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. She’s happy she wrote the book. It’s not a fast-riser on the New York Times best-seller list, but the reviews on amazon.com are amazingly thoughtful. People are being themselves when they comment. Nothing could be better.

 

Easy, Cheap, No Work

” I want the eight hour class, but I want you to spend no more than half a day. And I don’t want you to lose anything. Can you do that?”

Postcards“The two day class seems like a lot of work. Can you cut out some of the exercises without losing any of the learning?”

“My group really is scared of complicated classes. What can you do to make the topic simple so no one has to ask any questions or see a demo?”

I hear these questions at least twice a month, both about my art classes and my business writing classes. Fun, easy, simple classes are wonderful. Many things that are easy and simple are valuable and worth learning.

From Lisa Loves Learning

From Lisa Loves Learning

But there is value in complicated. Struggle with something and conquer it and you have two valuable outcomes–you’ve learned something new and you have learned that you are strong enough to stick with something worthwhile.

Sadly, challenges are getting a bad name. If something is hard, it is the teacher’s perceived job is to make it easy. I’ve seen the title workshop become “playshop” because, you know, work is hard.

Teachers are not meant to hand people pre-digested solutions to solve problems or to complete a project. Part of  personal growth is in the struggle, is in finding solutions, is in completing the work. No one loves failure, but it can be part of a larger success. A life that has no challenges, whose answers come supplied by others does not add any significant learning or meaning.

Struggle for the sake of struggle is not useful. But working hard for what you want brings rewards independent of winning. And rewards are worth working for.

Quinn McDonald draws out the brave in people. She admires the brave meaning-makers far more than winners.