Category Archives: In My Life

Take the Fresh One

It was 3:00 in the afternoon and I was hungry. That horrible mid-afternoon munchy that makes you think you are starving. I headed for the fridge for my usual snack–a red pepper. Sometimes it gets a dab of peanut butter, sometimes a smear of soft cheese. Other times, just plain. A sweet red pepper is a perfect thing.

pepperAs I reached into the crisper drawer, I noticed a wrinkled pepper, older, slowing exhaling its crunchy texture in exchange for wrinkles shooting across its skin.

Automatically, I reach for it. Training from long ago. We were not allowed to eat the fresh, new fruit. No, we were to eat the older, mushy fruit or vegetable first. That way, nothing went to waste. Waste, of course, was an epic transgression of the laws of nature. I know, I know, but you didn’t know my parents and how close they had lived to starvation for years.

The result? We never ate anything fresh. We constantly foraged for the spotted, the almost inedible, and saved it from the trash by eating it.

I hesitated, my hand over the older pepper. I knew it would not be crunchy, and the bright red taste had faded to a tougher skin and limp texture. And then it struck me: there are omelets, soups, garnishes, juices that could benefit from the older pepper. But the firm one, the one glowing in the corner is meant to be eaten now. Not broken down by cooking, but celebrated for its perfection of temperature, color, and happiness.

So, with my Mother tsk-tsking in my memory, I pulled out the fresh pepper and enjoyed every fresh, juicy, refreshing bite. Life. Enjoy it while it’s fresh.

-–Quinn McDonald sees big lessons in small places.

 

Sleep: Discipline is Needed

When I”m overloaded with work, the first thing I do is cut my sleep short. Waking doesn’t require an alarm clock in the summer,  cats know that first light means food, so lacking opposable thumbs, they wake me. The earlier the sun comes up, the earlier I get up, often at 4:30 a.m. Luckily, now that the nights are longer, the fur beasts snooze till I get up.

The heart is where the juice starts. © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved.

The heart is where the juice starts. © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved.

Trouble is, I’m a night person. I can easily work till past midnight, but not if I have to get up to teach, usually around 5 a.m.

I cannot burn the candle at both ends. Sure, it makes a lovely light, but a lovely light is no longer enough. I need combustion to fuel the day. So, I’m forcing the discipline of an earlier bed time. It rarely works, but it’s necessary. I’ve been through it before.

Self-discipline is rarely amusing or fun. But it is the heart of success, whatever your success might be. Without a good rest, without rich and complex dreams, we become shaky and weak. It’s harder to think, to plan, to appreciate, to imagine the future. It’s impossible to concentrate, to do good work without enough sleep.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those splendid people who can live on five hours of sleep. I need seven, and eight is welcome.

Knowing what you need and giving it to yourself is not self-indulgence. It is a discipline you need for happiness and to thrive.

Check out these 10 signs of sleep deprivation.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach whose energy drains without enough sleep. There is always a well that needs filling, isn’t there?

 

 

 

Nothing Personal?

That odd little phrase. . .”It’s not personal”

Of course it’s personal. If it weren’t personal, no one would waste breath doing Godfather_09the setup. Distancing. Pushing responsibility back on the listener. Acting as if what is about to be said is somehow not coming out of the speaker’s mouth and not causing a painful reaction in the person being talked to. Because, honestly, have those words ever been spoken in praise or admiration?

We all take our work personally. We all put emotion and effort into what we do to make a living. We want to take pride in our work. When someone starts a sentence with “Nothing personal, but . . .” it is a shortcut to being OK with saying “I am about to attack you and I expect you to sit and take it, and oh, you may not cry or fight back.”

We pretend that business is objective and logical, but it is not. Someone can understand your plan, but unless they have emotional buy-in, they won’t take action. The very expectations of business–taking favorable action–is emotional.

It’s so much easier to hide behind the thin veneer of logic and objectivity.  We want it both ways–deliver a gut punch and look objective.  It doesn’t work that way. Passive aggressive is as passive aggressive does. Own up to your emotions and opinions. They are yours. But “It’s not personal” does not free you of the responsibility of hurting someone else.

seth-godin-personallyTo avoid confusion, let’s be clear about using “It’s not personal.”
—Back to basics: If you wouldn’t want the phrase that contains INP said to you, don’t say it to the other person.
—If it’s about anything the other person said, did, drew, wrote,  or created in any way, don’t use INP.
—Replace  INP with “In my opinion. . .” and stand behind your words.
—If you want to point to a flaw, mistake, or gaffe, make sure you speak to the person in private. Ask for permission to point out the flaw. Have a suggestion ready for how you would fix it, but don’t offer it till you are asked.

“It’s not personal” almost always warns the listener about the slap that’s coming. Put it down. You have better phrases then that.

—Quinn McDonald hears a lot about what goes on in people’s lives. It’s not always good or helpful.

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.