Category Archives: In My Life

Blooming Late and Loving It

Kids want to grow up fast. Do what adults do. Feel powerful. Unfortunately, most adults don’t feel so powerful. They feel helpless, burdened with responsibility but not so much authority.

A true late bloomer: this organ pipe cactus blooms at night.

A true late bloomer: this organ pipe cactus blooms at night. © Quinn McDonald, 2014

I skipped grades when I was younger, got out of high school early and college really early. It didn’t make any difference, of course.

Every job made me “start over” and “prove myself.” For years, I thought this was a lack of ability on my part to show I was smart and capable. It took years to figure out that all the proof rested on thorny cultural facets–that women deserve less pay, that women need to prove themselves more than men, that women as seen as weak and hysterical.

Worse, I was a late bloomer. The youngest in my class, and slow to develop curves, I had to use wit, humor and smarts to negotiate my life. Unfortunately, I was also impatient, perfectionistic and, well, angry at all this nonsense.  Why couldn’t employers just use my skills? That attitude didn’t help.

As I got older, I began to see the advantage of being a late bloomer. You draw different battle lines in different places. You waste less energy. You spend more time solving the real problem–the underlying problem, rather than the superficial drama. In fact, you don’t care about the drama so much any more. You’ve seen so much drama, little of it fresh, and most of it is not about you.

As a late bloomer, you give up the need to prove who you are by words, and focus on doing. What you do becomes your proof statement, and people interested in results begin to pay attention. People interested in externals still shrill loudly, but it matters less, because there are those results. (My favorite was the woman who looked at my generous hips and hissed, “If you can’t control what you put in your mouth, how can you control the people who work for you?” to which I replied, ” Not a problem, as I wasn’t planning on eating them.”)

Now that I own my business, I am grateful to have been a late bloomer. I know how to pace a project, I know how to separate “urgent” from “important.” I stay calm when others amp the histrionics, as I’m not interested in the attention. I get work done. I work with a better quality of people. Yes, many years were spent fraught and living in disappointment. But I’m a late bloomer and life is good.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She travels the Americas, teaching.

Journal Ideas on the Run

The last year has seen a steep increase in my travel time. Which means I fly a lot and stay in a lot of hotels. Traveling can be lonely, and eating out every night is not the luxury it might seem. I don’t have a fat expense account, my diet is pretty rigid, and after a while, the idea of another Cesar salad makes me scowl. But this post is not about traveling, it’s about journal ideas when I’m traveling.

A muted wallpaper with several shades of blue and gray.

A muted wallpaper with several shades of blue and gray.

Hotels have a practical purpose to their carpets–they have to hide dirt and look trendy. Wallpaper has to be background to art and doorways and bedspreads are vanishing in favor of the bedroom equivalent of a table runner–a piece of fabric placed across the foot of the bed to remind you that there used to be bedspreads.

I photograph the patterns and then copy the idea into my journal. I may use different colors, sometimes I alter the scale, and sometimes I print out the photo and simply transfer it into my journal for color and shape use in a future project.

hotel2No matter how tired I am or how reluctant my brain is to write, the colors and patterns of walls, bedcovers, and floors provide endless design interest. Sometimes the design seems to emerge from the way-back machine (when, exactly, did that carpet above debut?).

hotel4On the other hand, from a design standpoint, the carpet above is interesting. I like the circles within circles, and the lines in the background gives depth to the whole thing. It was, in fact, the beginning of an idea for a Gelli Plate pattern I worked on. With different colors, it had an updated look.

hotel6Sometimes the wallpaper is simply interesting. This one was pleated, but irregularly. I loved the effect, which was limited to the elevator area. A whole hallways of orange and gold would have been too much–this wasn’t Vegas, it was Washington, D.C.

hotel1This coverlet detail above reminds me of my favorite “I can’t cut straight lines” solution. The fact that it is not symmetrical makes it even more appealing.

hotel5Oranges and earthtones seem to be having their heyday. Again. Which is why I liked this neutral-with-red striped bed covering in Dallas. The rest of the room picked up colors from this palette and made it effective for a small room. Another palette I’m saving for later use. I would not have mixed the pale gray-green into this mix, and the bit of pale apricot really works.

hotel7Bold works, too. I wouldn’t want this carpet in my home, but it was the inspiration for a collage I did that wound up in Joan Bess’s book, Gelli Plate Printing. The pattern-within-a-pattern was appealing.

Pg124Bessbk(p. 124 of Joan Bess’s book with my poppy collage, above). Inspiration is just that–an idea that you like, reworked in some other way. Because the poppy-carpet photo-transfer was in my journal, I began to play with the idea of poppies in collage. You never know where it will lead you.

Who would have thought that wallpaper and carpeting would be such an interesting addition to a journal? These walls did talk, after all!

-Quinn McDonald is a training developer and trainer. She teaches writing all over the U.S. and Canada. She is a certified creativity coach.

 

When “Sorry” Isn’t Enough

The insult was sharp. It hurt. It had come from a friend and I mentioned my hurt. She looked at me, shrugged and said “Sorry!” in a voice that indicated it was a learned response, not something she felt. And sure enough, a week later she did the same thing.

“Before you say ‘Sorry,'” I said, “I need to hear what you are going to do so this doesn’t happen again.” She was puzzled. “I said ‘Sorry'” she said. “What else can I do?”

76dcbbb3cc36cc94e8671814fe17107bAn apology is not a self-absolution. It’s the first step, not the last.  If you don’t want to change your behavior, you can be sorry for hurting someone’s feelings, but unless your behavior changes, you may wind up friendless.

An apology doesn’t guarantee reconciliation, either. Don’t know what else to say? Ask the person what specifically you did to hurt them. Ask about their hurt—was it connected to something you’ve done before? Was it something from their past that was brought up? Asking questions is a great way to move an apology from words into action.

Ask what your friend would like to see you do or say to repair the damage you did. There may not be anything specific, but just asking shows your willingness to admit you inflicted pain and that you want to make a change.

If you can’t take the action, discuss what you can do. If your friend asks too much, talk about that.

Your behavior identifies you. You can choose and act in ways that identify you as a good friend, someone who is willing to admit a mistake and work your way past it. Or you can shrug and say, “Sorry” and assume the rest is up to the people you know you.

—Quinn McDonald knows the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. And knows how wide that distance can be.

Practice Safe Vex

This weekend, some people I follow on Facebook were involved in a kerfuffle. A lot of small things went wrong, and it made a big mess. No names are mentioned in this story, because who said it is not important. How it was handled is important because a lot went wrong that didn’t have to.

rottenecard_56115622_vsk543fkyzHere is the bare-bones story: Person X, well-known in X’s field, was on an airplane. X was seated next to an overweight person. X and the overweight person had a discussion (not a happy one) about who could use what part of the armrest and seat. X is slender and took, then posted photos on Facebook of the overweight person taking up more than her seat and added some unhappy comments.

A few early comments took X’s side, making harsh statements against overweight people. Then, the tide turned.  The comments fell into different areas:

  • criticizing someone’s weight and blaming them for it
  • putting a person’s photo on Facebook without permission
  • defending the privacy of a timeline on Facebook
  • the idea that “you can say what you want in your own space on Facebook”

Lessons to learn from this embarrassing story:

We live in a public world. It’s hard to avoid being photographed, quoted and posted on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and a hundred other social media sites. You have every right to stand up for yourself and not allow yourself to be photographed. I understand that if you are in a public space, you don’t have an expectation of privacy, but this is not a legal matter, it’s an ethical one.

Legal and ethical are not the same. There may be no law against doing 5580292534_1a744e1dd5something, but that doesn’t make it right or good. It’s just not illegal. It could be hurtful, cause embarrassment, or crush someone’s spirit. Now we are in ethics.

Some basic social media rules:

  • Don’t photograph private people in a public space and post those photos without the person’s permission.
  • Posting anything on Facebook makes it public. Even if you post it just to your friends and family, they can re-post it and make it public. That’s how “going viral” starts.
  • Everyone has biases. They are best kept to yourself. Once you air those biases, you have labeled yourself. People have amazingly long memories about gaffes and biases.

Person X apologized by saying she had not thought the incident through. And she said she should not have posted the photos.

Many people replied that she could post whatever she wanted on Facebook, since it was on her own timeline. They seemed to have missed that what you post on your timeline winds up on other people’s news feeds. And can be passed on.

And about that freedom of speech thing? Every privilege comes with a responsibility. Yes, you can say what you want. But every post, every spoken sentence carries a consequence. You can say what you want, but people will also say what they want. So don’t expect to get nothing but support just because you are expressing your opinion.

If you are angry, do not act in anger. Think through the story and how it will appear to others. In other words, practice Safe Vex.

—Quinn McDonald knows a lot about putting your foot in your mouth. She’s had a lot of practice. She also knows that fat people are the last group that can still be victimized as a group sport. That’s cruel.

 

 

 

Growing Without Pushing

The biggest surprise over the last dozen years of owning my business is—just like real  life—you can’t force things to happen. For most of my adult, corporate life, I thought that’s how you got things done. Pushed against resistance till the resistance collapsed and you “won.” Negotiate hard until the opposition caved and I “won.” I sure wasted a lot of time doing that.

Battle-of-Vimeiro_edited-11

Not every skirmish needs to be turned into a war that must be won.

An example: I’m a good writer. Experienced, nuanced, clear. After decades of writing, I should be. I deserve to be paid for that ability and expertise. When a client says, “We’re not paying you what you asked for, we’re paying you half. We pay our other writers less, you shouldn’t be asking for that much,” I no longer force back by piling up my experience and subject knowledge. Nope.

Instead, I nod and say, “I understand your budget can’t stretch to cover my fee. I wish you every success on the job with another, less expensive writer. Thank you for considering me,” and head toward the door. Notice it’s a statement of fact, not anger or threat. I rarely make it to the door before I’m called back. “Maybe we can arrange something.” Good, let’s talk.

Another example: Occasionally, I’m asked to speak to new coaches on choosing a niche. I’m supposed to explain how I chose my niche, and how others can choose theirs. There is no secret. I didn’t sit down and think over what niche I would develop. It worked the other way around. I looked at the people around me, the ones naturally present already, and built by offering what they needed from what I could do.

It’s an easier life if you don’t  have to put your shoulders down and bull your way through. It’s far more rewarding to work with your natural gifts, with people who are already around you. By heightening talents you have in situations that present themselves, there is less damage to your spirit and more building of your strengths. Less grinding, more polishing. Less spinning, more weaving. It’s a good life.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She’s also a life– and creativity coach who helps people when they are stuck. She can’t help everyone, and doesn’t fight it.

Airport Art When You Are on the Run

Lately, I’ve been up in the air. A lot. Dallas. Denver. Houston. Change flights in Chicago (note to self: never do that again. Ever.)

Photo: Joel Kramer

Photo: Joel Kramer

There is amazing art in many airports. And then there is just weird art in some airports. Phoenix has a suspended bi-plane that looks like it might be crashing in Terminal 3. The plane is a SPAD XIII, one of the most successful fighting planes of World War I.

Above it is a stained glass window designed by Ken Toney. I thought it was related to Frank Lloyd Wright (whose winter home was in the area), but no. The colors reminded Toney of the Southwest.

Dallas-Fort Worth airport (which is a nightmare of navigation problems) has an ice castle in it. Well, it’s a sculpture of an ice mountain castle.

1917pwqgkq5upjpgI’m not sure, but I think Dallas has no mountains. Still, it’s fun to walk by it–or in my case, run by it.

Atlanta has a sculpture of a flying ear of corn. I haven’t been in Atlanta lately, so I borrowed this from the Gizmodo site. It’s too good not to share.

19190mkf0d9qajpgThe sculpture, part of the vegetable series by Craig Nutt, includes an air traffic control tower that’s a carrot. Sometimes an ear of corn is just an ear of corn.

Travel between the B and C Concourses at Chicago and you will be in a light show.  Luckily, you can hang onto the rail of the moving sidewalk while you gawk.

1917tw7zkp9lqjpg“Sky’s the Limit” has more than 450 neon tubes and there’s music playing. It’s overwhelming, but so is the Chicago airport.

Denver airport has a huge blue sculpture of a mustang in front. Not to put too

Photo: Len Borden

Photo: Len Borden

fine a point on it, but it is anatomically correct. Which I almost didn’t notice because the beast has glowing red eyes, too. Dubbed “Blucifer” by the locals, there are many dramatic photos of the beast. One of the best is here, complete with dramatic weather in the background.

A lot of scary stories surround “Blue Mustang”, too. The sculptor, Louis Jimenez, was killed when a section of the sculpture fell on him, severing an artery.

When I travel, I love to see the local art, especially if it’s in the airport. I don’t know how the art is selected, but you know that people argue over how to represent their city. Sometimes art wins. Sometimes the committee does.

And then, I’m happy to come home to some simply gorgeous gifts of nature. The clouds on the evening I came home:

Photo: Quinn McDonald

Photo: Quinn McDonald

And a cactus in bloom–more so this year than any I can remember in the last few years.

cactusflower

Quinn McDonald travels a lot. She is glad to see the world and always happy to come back home to the desert.

Anonymous Doesn’t Count

The age of anonymity is upon us. We lurk on the internet; we can be anybody or nobody. But the anonymity of the internet is not about privacy, it’s about cruelty.

Without having to identify ourselves, we can become emotional snipers. Under the guise of privacy, we become cruel, even vicious. If you have never experienced this, read any Yahoo “news” account, then read the comments. They vary from mildly hurtful to hate speech.

Anon-cruel

“Because none of us are are cruel as all of us.”

When I hand out evaluation blanks in my writing classes, the question always floats up, “Do we have to sign our name?” Well, why not? Have a complaint? Let me know and sign your name. Tell me your truth. Write in a conversational tone. Tell me what didn’t work for you. I can’t be the perfect instructor for everyone, and I’m always interested in hearing an opinion that helps improve the class. I’ve learned from many an eval.

I have no power of reprisal in your company. I am an outsider, a freelancer.

A signed comment makes you an adult with a comment worth reading. When I hear, “We can’t be honest unless it’s anonymous,” I wonder what kind of honesty requires anonymity. What kind of remark would you not say to my face but would be happy to repeat behind my back? Nothing helpful.

I’ve written my share of complaint letters, and I’ve signed every one of them. Adding my name made me careful of grammar, clarity, and asking for what I want. More often than not, I get what I asked for. Without a name, how will the person know how to respond, or to whom?

Be proud of your opinions. They are your experiences. They are your truth. But the word whispered behind the hand, the emotional sniper with venom and anger–that’s not something I’m going to care about or do anything about.

Take a stand for your own character. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels.

—Quinn McDonald can offer more help if she knows who to offer it to.

Organization and Control

As a working mother in my 30s and 40s, I was sure control was the key to success. I ran my life with lists and schedules. This worked well at work, except for days when the schedule called for leaving work promptly. In those days, much of the political part of work took place in bars and restaurants after work and for moms with children, the glass ceiling often looked more like the carved wood door to the club bar door.

todolistI stayed ahead with strict schedules–often I’d sit with my to-do list for the day, the week, and each project. What I missed by socializing after work, I made up for by working once my son was asleep. My work was always on time or ahead of schedule. I was dependable and it had to stand in for social.

It worked most of the time. When something unexpected came up, I would make a list for it, ignore it, deny it, or rarely, work around it. I often went to work sick. I truly believed that the cure-all tool was organization.

The trouble with organization, of course, is that it doesn’t allow for life to happen. It does allow for good problem solving, a regularly planned process and a good idea of what was going to happen in the future.

As I got older, I realized that we are less in control than we think. We are not in control of the weather, of when or how our family members will die, when or if we will get the flu, or be broadsided by a driver who is on the phone and runs the red light.

There is a difference between control and organization. Organization works with what you have. Control tries to place (or nudge, or force) people, plans, processes into step with where you are at the moment. With varying results.

Control often runs off the tracks due to no ones fault. Instead of trying to force events by sheer will, see what happens if you look at the event in the light of “what works best here?” or “What can I do that works with what I have?”

--Quinn McDonald is beginning to enjoy the accidental and the flawed. It’s the gift of emotional wabi-sabi.

 

 

Gallery

Decorating With Collections

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Yes, it’s too early for winter holiday decorations. Unless, of course, you are hand-making them. In which case, it’s time to think about all the Autumn and Winter holidays (because some decorations can be combined or re-used). On October 18 … Continue reading

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.