Category Archives: In My Life

How to Succeed

Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at and not doing it.

One of my favorite sayings. It’s helped me tremendously.

The impossible art of Li Wei.

The impossible art of Li Wei.

Almost every time I say that someone replies that if I really want something, I will be able to do it. All it takes is dedication and effort. I love the courage of that statement, but it’s not true. Supposing I wanted to be the prima ballerina of the Phoenix Ballet—not going to happen. Even if I practiced every day for the next 10 years. I took three years of ballet when I was seven, and did not continue. I don’t have the talent or the body type. I am too old to be a professional dancer. (Most retire around age 40.) I have arthritis. All the dedication in the world would not change that.

But the main point of the statement is slightly different and entirely positive. Instead of chasing after impossible dreams, take a look at your skills, talents, experience. Build on those. Thrive.

Don’t focus on your failures, shortcomings and try to ignore them to create a foundation that won’t support your dreams. It’s a waste of your life.

There’s a second half to that saying: The other half of being smart is knowing what you are good at and doing a lot more of it.

It’s always surprising to me how many people want to struggle when they don’t need to.

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teachers writing. She wrote that saying in her journal when she was 27 years old.

Time Travel

Time moves on whether we use it or not. We can’t speed it up or slow it down, but we are experts at ignoring it.

It's not time, it's a tattoo.

It’s not time, it’s a tattoo.

Reading through Facebook this morning, I had no desire to post anything. Some days Facebook is like a statue and we are pigeons–swoop in, deposit something, and fly off.  I was not connecting to anything.  Cute videos, tragic abandoned dogs and car accidents . . .I forget them as soon as they move off the screen. Really, it was just floating in a half-world of unreal experience, none of it memorable.

I got up early this morning to get work done. But first, check Facebook and emails and Pinterest and stop by Twitter. Because, no kidding, I feel guilty if I don’t check in on my. . . what, exactly? My displaced feeling of connection is what. Bumper-sticker philosophy passing as thoughtfulness. Beautiful photographs, funny cartoons. This is not connection.  This is not friendship. This is also not doing nothing. It is fueling a low-grade irritation about ideas I have already considered.   Still, I can do this because on the internet you can do nothing and rationalize it as social networking, and call it working.

By 7 a.m. when I’d been up for ovr two hours, I has spent the entire time sitting at my desk, staring at my laptop.

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

I was not relaxing. I was not doing anything, either. I was in some sort of half-awake world of semi-attention, hoping that something would inspire me.

What would really inspire me was rest. It came up like a huge bubble from under a deep pool–if I wanted to rest, I should rest. Stop fooling myself. So I got up, closed the computer, and went back to bed.

I lay on my back, wondering if I should be working. No, I was tired, so I closed my eyes. It felt. . .good. I fell asleep quickly. Slept for two hours. Woke up rested.

When I returned to the computer, I did not check in on Facebook. It ran just fine without me. Instead, I wrote down what I needed to do, set the timer on a reasonable amount of time to accomplish it, and started writing. It worked. Because I was rested.

Lying down is resting. Lying down and opening your iPad is not resting.
I like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. But it’s not work and it’s not research. It needs to fit into my goofing-off time. So if I don’t have time to goof-off, I will not call posting on Facebook “working,” and spend 45 minutes reading what semi-strangers are doing.

Rest when I’m tired. Work when I need to work. Goof off when i am done working. That feels better.

Quinn McDonald had a good nights sleep. Finally.

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.

Journaling Experience

Lisa Sonora is running a 30-day journaling challenge. The challenge is free and she posts about the prompts every day.  It’s been years since I journaled on someone else’s prompts. Seemed like an interesting idea. And so far (this is day nine) is has been.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge. The “click here” doesn’t work in this photo. Use the link in the first line.

Something I’ve noticed–when you have a lot of life’s experiences under your belt, you see journal prompts in ways that life has shaped you. (Or that you have shaped yourself in reaction to your life).

While this journaling experience is an art journal, I’m not doing it that way. I find it too easy to slap down some color or use a stencil and then create a facile reason in my head. Because I have a big imagination, I’m also really good at rationalization, and that’s the wrong direction for this journaling trip.

This is a written journal for me. But I’m allowing myself to think and write visually, as I usually do when I take notes. So it’s part written, part sketch notes.

One of the questions this week was about our life’s purpose. I realized with a bit

My journal entry considering your life's purpose

My journal entry considering your life’s purpose

of a shock that I better have that figured out by now. I’m well past the time when I have the steak portion of my life ahead of me, ready to slice and serve.

So I drew what appeared in my head: a closely fit puzzle, in which your purpose trickles through layers and connections, changing and remaining the same. Arrows show that you move in more than one direction at once, that experience shapes decisions, and that the goal is often pushed off into a corner, forgotten for the rush of the experience. And those two empty blocks? Well, they come at the beginning and the end.  There is always room for growth and not knowing.

-–Quinn McDonald held the door open for someone at the bank yesterday. She felt the cool air rush over her as the other person slowly moved inside. And she knew it was her purpose in life. To hold the door open without expectation, and to feel the cool rush push away the stinging heat in delight.

 

Travel, Made Easier

Who Won the Book? The winner of  Monday’s give-away of The Right-Brain Business Plan is Barbara Storey! Congratulations, Barbara! Drop me an email and let me know your address and the book will be on its way.

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Travel a lot? Then you know the experience of being made into sausage–squeezed, pushed, moved along an assembly line, till you finally plop, encased in ennui, into your seat. It could be far easier. Some airports (Houston’s Bush, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit) already look like shopping malls. But the mall makes us into sausage, too. Here are my suggestions:

1. Make the baggage X-ray ground-level. Most airport have people-image_security_linesmovers–flat escalators that move you through the airport straightaways faster than you can walk. Use the same technology to keep passengers from lifting their suitcases, laptop bags, and shoes. The technicians can either be in pits (like a racing car team), or the machines can be lowered. Attached bins keep your wet shoes from dripping on your scarf and coat lining.

2. Color-code your ticket to the terminal. Many airports don’t label the terminal–the signs have numbers corresponding to airlines, but at the last minute, they abandon the terminal numbering system and leave you looking for small door signs. If you are changing planes, you often don’t know what terminal you are in. Color-coded signage would be useful. Color-coding your ticket (particularly the ones on your phone) would make it a lot easier to move through the airport.

airport-lines3. Signs over the jetway door tell you what section is currently boarding. The announcements just don’t work in the din of an airport, and the silly names for the special passenger orders (“All platinum, gold, silver, titanium, aluminum and plastic cardholders are now encouraged to board”) are not informative, just confusing.

4. Place big, overhead signage close to baggage claim. The signs would show the city you left from, the flight number, and what carousel your luggage will be on. These signs should be overhead as you go down the escalator to baggage claim.

5. All exit doors are numbered for easy identification. If there is a North side and a South side (as there is in Phoenix) all North doors are even numbers, all South doors are odd numbers. These numbers would be color coded so you know what terminal you are leaving. That way, instructions for catching a taxi, hotel van, or rental car bus would be much easier to follow.

A%2B+Best+web+image-+Albany+Airport+Food+Court41-rectangle-z0-w750-h5506. Create an app that shows what food is available at each gate. The same app would show how far you are from your gate as you move through the airport.  Do I eat in Terminal C on my way to Terminal E? Will I find something diabetic-friendly at the gate I’m heading toward? Often I see a nice restaurant, but I have no idea how long it will take me to get to my gate. I don’t want to risk stopping for food if it means missing the plane. But when I get to my gate, the only food available is fried, salted carbs. Backtracking is too time consuming.

7. Make toilet stalls big enough to accommodate luggage. No one wants to leave luggage unattended, but the stalls in airports are smaller than stalls at theaters, where you have a purse, but no luggage. Getting your roll-around into the stall and fitting in yourself is often like a game of human Tetris.

What changes would make travel easier for you? Doesn’t have to be an airport. What would make your subway, metro, freeway experience better?

-Quinn McDonald travels a lot. She’s pretty sure airport designers do not.

 

 

 

Keeping Track of Colors

It’s frustrating when you go to an art supply store and buy colored pencils, paints, or pastels and buy the same colors over again–several times. And if you are like me, you keep buying the same three colors in quantity.

paintestOne smart solution is to keep the names or color swatches in your journal. Very useful. Well, except that you have to remember in which journal you put which product. And flipping through journals is fun, but you come to your senses an hour later and still haven’t found the one with the Twinkling H2Os. But browsing your journals is always interesting.

Here’s an easy, practical solution: I keep all my color swatch samples in a small three-ring binder–a 5″ x 7″ size. To keep the paper tests similar and comparable, I put the samples on Strathmore Ready-Cuts, which protects me from cutting crooked pieces of watercolor paper.

There is a section for watercolor, one for acrylics,  another for my different watercolor pencils, and a section for Caran D’Ache Neocolor II, and  Tombow watercolor pens. For each color swatch I add the color number or name or any other specific identification.

Of course, while I had all this in one easy place, I would regularly forget to take it with me to check if I have the color. Then I made it super easy. I simply photographed each page on my iPhone and stored them in one “album” on my phone. The phone is always with me. I flip through the album, and check the color number or name. If I have it, I don’t re-buy it. Not even tempted.

TestsheetI also do small experiments on the pages to see what technique works best for each color. I’m enamored with Caran D’Ache Neocolor IIs right now. Anything that travels easily and can look like watercolor is a friend of mine.

For the Neocolors, I’ve discovered that rubbing the color on a piece of wax-,  deli- or freezer paper and wetting it gives me the most intense color with smooth, easy application. And no mess, even on an airplane.

And the colors come in a flat metal box, so it is super easy to pack, even in your carry-on. And that makes waiting in the TSA line just a bit easier.

I love journaling, and while I love complicated discovery work, I also love easy art.

—Quinn McDonald keeps journals and travels. A lot.

 

Map Your World

The newspaper had stories on  The Cape Verde Islands. I couldn’t remember if the Seychelles are close to Cape Verde islands (they aren’t.)  The story didn’t have a map,  but it would have made for a clearer story if there had been one. A map adds context. But we are no longer used to maps. We rely on photos for emotional food, but we dieted away our spatial-relationship food.

We may not need paper maps as long as there is a GPS system to tell us how to get where we want to go. But don’t we need to know where we were and how we got here? If life is a journey, don’t we want a map of the trip?

My dirty secret is that I hate using GPS systems. They make me feel dizzy and disoriented. I have the same problem as digital clocks– I need to know where I’m not as well as where I am. I need to have a sense of connection, of space, of logic on the freeway as well as downtown. A few days ago a friend and I were driving to the airport. She had mistakenly programmed her GPS system for someplace else. And while we could both clearly see the airplanes landing a few miles away, she headed in the other direction because her GPS system told her to. I don’t own a GPS and don’t miss it, either.

My favorite three reasons to use lots of maps:

desert_portraits1. Maps help us figure out the world around us. Most people who don’t live in Arizona think the entire state is desert, with saguaro cactus and drifting sand, like the Sahara. (The Sahara doesn’t have saguaros, but that’s another blog.) When they hear it snows in Flagstaff and that the road to the Grand Canyon is closed due to snow starting in November, they think I’m making it up. A topographical map, showing elevations, helps explain why that is.

2. Maps help us figure out where to go next. This isn’t necessary about physical geography, this is also true in writing. I use a mind map to organize almost everything I write, and once I organize the studio, I can complete the map of where things are. This is a goofy map I’m making because the room is small and doubles as the guest room, so I often have to disappear things in a closet. Astrict rule of putting things in the same place every time and an Excel spread sheet (I can search for items in different ways) helps me locate gesso, spray bottles and sponge brushes once the guests are gone.

3. Maps help us know what’s beyond the horizon. We usually care about our houses and our back yards. It’s also important to know what’s in your back yard, what’s in the next state, the location of the nearest earthquake fault, water source, and windbreak.  A good map can do that, particularly if you add to it or draw it yourself.

Which reminds me. Draw your own maps. They don’t have to be elaborate or even exact. Drawing a map helps you think spatially, locally and globally. And that has to be a good thing.

-–Quinn McDonald draws her own maps of everything from city streets to location of bathrooms and water dispensers in places she teaches.

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing a Book by its Cover

Handmade-Butterfly-Journal-India-P15814619

The journal as it was originally

Digging through my piles of partially-started journals, I found one I really liked. Why didn’t I continue using it? I liked the paper inside–heavy enough for sketches and light washes, provided they don’t require a lot of scrubbing. The top paper layer did dissolve, but I generally don’t soak my journal pages.

Why had I abandoned this journal? After staring at it for a minute, I realized the cover was too busy, the paint stencil over the newspaper-print butterflies didn’t suit the delicate swirls on the cover.

Most of my journal covers are dark brown or black. If I make the journal myself, I use a dark color–it shows less wear. Even when I loose-leaf journal, the covers or carriers are usually dark.

The big circle is much greener, but color correction can only do so much.

The big circle is much greener, but color correction can only do so much.

Yep, I was that shallow–judging a book by its cover. And not using it because I didn’t like the cover. Milliseconds later, I grabbed paper and collaged the cover, leaving the pretty purple color and swirls in space and covering the butterflies with geometric shapes.

Some color richness is missing here, too, but you get the idea.

Some color richness is missing here, too, but you get the idea.

Since then, I’ve been using it regularly. Who knew that such a small thing could make such a big difference? As an artist, I should have. But I was embarrassed at 4972f961f1e56b004aaa0323977ed746my own “shallowness.” Until I thought about it. We buy by preference–color, texture, shading.  I wouldn’t buy the shoes on the left, for example, although someone did. And wore them with great flair.

My experiment of book-cover altering bring up another idea: the things we use have to fit our hands, our hearts, and our pleasures. Or we won’t use them. It’s not always about practical and usefulness. Sometimes it’s about sheer pleasure.

--Quinn McDonald judges a book by its cover. She tries not to do the same for people.

 

 

Alone Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Neither literally  nor figuratively. “Alone” is an experience fast disappearing from our culture.  For an entire generation who grew up in sports teams, group after-school activities, study clubs, and went from that to living in college dorms, parties and more sports teams, there is a big surprise. When you have graduated, when you are done with work, you’ll find yourself alone. I know that people now have roommates instead of a studio apartment, I know that work is now a 24/7 activity, largely to avoid being alone, but sooner or later, you will find yourself alone.

One of my friends is terrified of being alone. She will do almost everything to avoid that evening spent alone. Call friends, spend four hours on Facebook, go on a date with someone she doesn’t like. All this because it’s better than being alone.

For some of us, alone is a time to recharge and regroup. After I’ve taught for eight hours, I need to spend time alone. But I’m in the vast minority.

Food52Whether it’s divorce, or death,  a fight, or just life, at some point you will be alone. And you can love it. You don’t have to live in dread or fear, being alone can be a delicious break from having people crowded around you, talking all the time.

Some early steps to comfort yourself when you are alone:

1. What do you like to do? Read? Cook? Hike? You can do almost anything alone that you used to do with friends. Except this time you can do it your way. An activity really can be all about you. You can hike at your pace, turn on your music, cook what you like. Take a deep breath and think–do you remember your preferences? Or are they blurred by what all your friends told you was right?

2. Quit looking at the clock. Instead, choose an activity and plan how to savor it. Decide which book to read. Spend some time choosing it. Decide where you want to read it. Outside? Inside on the couch, stretched out? Decide what is best for you. Then do it. Read till you are tired. Fall asleep. Wake up and keep reading. What did you like about the book? What didn’t you like?

3. Decide what you will eat. No more junk, on the run. Choose something you like that’s good for you. Make a grocery list. Go buy groceries. Cook it thoughtfully. Set the table. Sit at a table with candlelight. Play music if you like. You choose. The joy of preparing food and choosing what will nourish you deliberately is a deeply refreshing experience.

Those three are enough for now. Life alone is not something to be rushed, or avoided. There is much to learn when the journey has only your footprints along the path.

Note: When I searched for photos for this blog, all I could find was people alone, crying at dinner, or eating out of cans. Not even Google sees the joy of alone-ness.

–Quinn McDonald loves people, but she also loves being alone. Particularly after spending 12 hours on airplanes with 560 strangers this week.

Battling the Battle

The Phoenix newspaper probably has a higher share of obituaries than other papers in the U.S., because our population skews a bit older than some other cities. There are two striking facts that jump off the page:

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

The Battle of Minas Tirith.

1. Whatever you do, don’t call it “death” or “dying.” I have never seen so many euphemisms for dying. Passing on, passing over, going home, going to meet her maker, going to meet her husband, shuffling off the mortal coil (the writer must have been a Hamlet enthusiast), going to his just reward–the list is endless. But no one dies.

Death makes most people uncomfortable. We like our “stuff” and death means no more stuff. And as a culture, we see very few people die (except on TV). So I can understand we want to make it something else other than the very permanent death.

2. Everyone “battles” a disease. Usually it’s a heroic battle or a long battle.

When my time comes, I don’t want to have “battled” anything. It sets a bad precedent. It pits me against a disease, and I may not want to start a war with my own life. As no one came here to stay, “battling” is going to, at some point, be a losing proposition. And the idea that someone “loses the battle against disease” seems a little harsh. Eventually, it means we are all losers. Heroes that failed. That’s not how I want to look at my life. Or my death.

True,  I have a life-altering, non-curable disease. I am not “battling” it. I am adjusting to it, adapting my life and habits, accepting it, dealing with it, living with it. Diabetes is now a companion, something I check in with before I decide what to eat, how long to exercise, and how much stress I have going on in my life. But I am not battling it. That would be futile. Better to collaborate with diabetes that to struggle against it. I will live longer, feel better, be healthier and not exhaust myself in a “battle” that I can’t win.

-–Quinn McDonald knows her days are numbered. She just doesn’t know the number, and is making the most of every day she has. She thinks about death frequently, to get to know it without terror or resentment. And she hopes to live many interesting years to come.