Category Archives: In My Life

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.

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.

 

 

9/11, Thirteen Years Later

Like that other 9/11, I’m teaching today.
Like that other 9/11, the sky is perfectly blue.
Like that other 9/11, I was happy to get up and have a class to teach. Life was good, then and now.

But the world is different. Our lives changed, our culture changed. Our hearts changed. There is more fear. And because of that, more anger.

I used to look at the broken window in my house and remember how lucky I was to have survived.

One of many memorials for those who died on 9/11/01. This one is in Springfield, Mass.

One of many memorials for those who died on 9/11/01. This one is in Springfield, Mass.

My whole family survived when so many did not. Not all of my clients or students were as lucky.  It took me a long time to be able to ride the Metro again. Overcoming fear is a small price to pay when you can still walk and see and hug the ones you love. Now we have to overcome a bigger fear. Fear of trusting again. Fear of accepting someone different from us. Fear of a religion we don’t understand. We each have choices to make, today, thirteen years after September 11, 2001. Make them in love. Make them with an open heart. It’s all you can do, but it will change the world.

-Quinn McDonald lived just three miles from the Pentagon in 2001. Now she lives 2,500 miles west of it, but she still sees fear and suspicion and anger.

Sometimes it’s Just Weird

Sometimes creativity is a spark to brilliance; sometimes it’s just weird. This week may be fashion week in New York, but I was looking at furniture online. All of these pieces are actual chairs and for sale. (No links, I just can’t bring myself to include links.)

somethingsafootThe “Something’s afoot” chair from Anthropologie. I want to be in the marketing meeting where this thing was approved.

weird-furniture-2_thumbWhat’s the point? I want comfort. Of course I love pencils, but not poking me in the . . . everywhere.

strange-furniture-odd-couches-weird-beds-unique-tables27Someone put the lampshade on their head at the office party–and then froze that way. And if this lady-lamp is naked, why is she wearing pumps and lights?

weird-furnitureThe woman who got eaten by a plastic hose chair. It just doesn’t look comfortable, sort of like putting your panties on the wrong way.  And, does it come in another color?

Quinn McDonald thinks it’s OK to be weird, as long as you don’t have to pay to be uncomfortable.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Time Is On Your Side–If You Put it There

Freelancers know a lot about time. About not having enough of it. About deadlines. About approaching deadlines. (Sometimes about missed deadlines.)

unique-clock-1For some reason, I’ve fallen into bad time management habits, so I decided to figure out why.  The first business day in September seems like a good time to share it.

Nothing takes “only five minutes.”
My clients say it all the time, “How long could it take to write that headline? Can’t take more than five minutes?” “Answering an email takes just a minute. You can write five emails in five minutes.”

Nothing called “work” takes just five minutes. Even if you don’t count prep time. To answer an email, I have to read it carefully and figure out what the person wants. (Often it’s hidden in the middle of a paragraph, behind the background and details). Then I have to decide how to best answer it. Then write the email and store the draft while I answer others, then re-read it for dumb errors.

weirdClocks-9Lesson #1: Do not let the client push you into a time frame that doesn’t work.    Set a time frame that is reasonable for the speed at which you work. You may lose clients that way, but better to lose a client by smart time management than through stupid mistakes caused by rushing.

Stop believing the travel time on Google Maps. People who made the maps don’t dash back into the house because they forgot a folder or a water bottle. They don’t have the same traffic and road construction I do. They don’t go to the bathroom when they get to an appointment to make sure there isn’t something stuck in their teeth.

Lesson #2: Add at least 30 minutes to commuting time. This sounds like it will waste time, but it can be a big deal. One client location is 31 minutes away by Google Maps. I have never been able to make the trip in under 45 minutes. Doesn’t matter why–if I don’t want to be late, I have to leave more time for the longer drive.

webpark-clockWhat if I am too early? I bring a nonfiction book that I’m reading. Something I don’t mind if the client sees. Example: Wabi Sabi for Writers rather than The Joy Diet. Love Martha Beck, but I don’t want to explain it’s not really a diet book or discuss diets with my client. E-readers are excellent for reading without broadcasting the title.

Time moves at different rates. Some days I can race through work, other days I have to drag and kick myself through the same work. I don’t know why it is, but on dragging days, time needs to be adjusted–it will take longer to do ordinary tasks.

Lesson #3: Stop over-scheduling yourself. You can’t keep up the pace. Leave a half day every week to catch up. I don’t book coaching or training clients on Fridays. I’m never bored on Fridays, and frequently finishing projects that got delayed, needed more research, got pushed aside. And if the week has gone well, and I have to find a coaching slot, Friday can work for that, too.

-Quinn McDonald still thinks time moves differently on different days, but at least she knows what time it is.

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.