Category Archives: In My Life

The Bent Frame

Not even clear how it happened, but my glasses frames got bent. They are very light frames, so the damage was total. No way they could be worn. While my distance vision is fine, my near vision needs to be corrected with glasses. To make matters just a bit more tense, on Monday I’m leaving on a business trip to teach, so I need to see clearly.

These aren't my glasses. Mine look a lot worse. But you can get the idea.

These aren’t my glasses. Mine look a lot worse. But you can get the idea.

My first impulse was to grab a pair of pliers and bend the glasses back into shape. But I don’t have jeweler’s tools anymore.

My second realization was that the place I bought the glasses is closed on Sunday.

My third thought was . . . to think of a simple solution, one not connected to panic. That was not quite as easy, because the impulse was to use my fingers to straighten the glasses. The frames are so light. But I know about metal fatigue–and that overeager “fixing” can cause more damage than leaving it alone. I’ve done a lot of home repairs that way–first I “saved money by doing the job myself,” and then I paid a lot more to a professional to fix what I made worse and then do the repair correctly.

These aren't mine, either, but they don't look much worse than mine.

These aren’t mine, either, but they don’t look much worse than mine.

After all that, the answer is pretty simple–I take the glasses to a shop in the mall tomorrow and have them fix it with professional tools. It meant no reading tonight. That was a big departure.

What I found interesting was the problem-solving process. It followed so many other problem-solving steps: first, astonishment at how the damage got so serious. Second, disbelief and anger. Even a flash of “why does this kind of thing have to happen to me when I am about to teach at an important out-of-town client?”  This was starting to look like a personality test more than a decision what to do with broken glasses.

Finally, a solution based on mistakes made in the past. Don’t try things without the tools you need if you don’t have the time or replacement pieces yourself. Leave the delicate work to the people with trained, specialized small-muscle control.

It’s how I approach creative problems, too. First a bit of panic, anger, and crankiness that I ruined a piece. Maybe a flash of inner critic telling me that other artists don’t make these mistakes. Then the recognition that I have the tools and the ability, but I have to use past mistakes to make the current piece I’m working on come to a satisfying conclusion.

That means admitting to past mistakes, figuring out what worked well and what did not, and repeat the thinking that brings out a simple, elegant solution. A creative lesson in a pair of bent glasses frames. Not such a bad price to pay.

-Quinn McDonald is glad she learned touch-typing at an early age, as she can’t see what she’s typing.


The (Almost) Lost Art of Polite

Leaving the bank, I sensed someone behind me. I walked through the heavy door, then held it open for an elderly man who was slowly making his way toward the door. “I’m not helpless,” he groused. “Of course not,” I replied, “I’m just being polite.”

rude_polite_rankingPolite isn’t popular anymore. A friend who observed by husband opening the car door for me, as he has for decades, sniffed, “Are you so weak you can’t open that door yourself?” If my husband didn’t have the keylock, I would have reached across and unlocked his door for him, too.

It’s kind to help people who have mobility issues, but the small acts that make up being polite are truly an art that makes the world a bit shinier and easier to manage.

Polite is hard to explain to small children. They stare at the handicapped, ask intrusive questions, and are sticklers for the “truth” as they see it. If we are lucky, they get socialized and develop the habit of being polite. But it’s slipping away, faster and faster.

When I bump into anything–even inanimate objects, I say, “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” as a force of habit. A teen looked at me in the grocery store when I apologized to a grocery cart and muttered, “Dude, it’s like a thing! It can’t hear you.” True. But it might have been a person.

I let pregnant women ahead of me in line because I remember what it felt like to stand on swollen feet. When I was in D.C. two weeks ago, no one looked up from the seats clearly marked “for Senior Citizens and the handicapped,” and I did not have the nerve to pull out their headphones so I could ask for the seat. Why not? Because I didn’t think they would move.

Being polite means saying that an ugly baby is adorable, sending thank-you cards, and attending funerals of people you don’t know well. It’s saying “thank you” to a cashier who isn’t polite.  Not walking three abreast down a sidewalk and forcing other people to step into the street. If you are a bicyclist, it’s stopping at signs and lights instead of blowing through them or yelling “on your left” when someone is using the sidewalk for walking, then passing them at top speed, just nipping their elbow.

Polite is not throwing your co-working under the bus just because you can and no one will stand up to you. Bring back polite, and the whole concept of bullying shrinks and vanishes. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing and takes little effort.

-–Quinn McDonald still says “you’re welcome” when someone says, “thank you.” She doesn’t want them to think for a minute that they might have been a problem.


When the Universe Ain’t Talkin’

We have questions. A lot. We want the universe to provide answers. Sometimes, we think the universe does. We see signs. We understand them. Then again, we think the universe is silent on some questions we have.

you-are-here2What are we supposed to do? We need an answer now. Is that a sign? How should we take it? Is it a yes? A no? Why isn’t it clear?

Frankly, I don’t know. But the more you need an answer, the quieter the universe gets. And yes, when I say “the universe,” I’m talking about some greater power than just one person on their own. Whether you call that God, or Spirit, or Universe, it’s hard to figure out what to do when we want an answer. Some prayers are unanswered, some answers come unprayed for.

I have an answer: wait. The universe does not work on the American Business Model. And just because you want an answer, doesn’t mean one will be spelled out for you. Sometimes waiting is an excellent way to spend time.

zen_007Most of us don’t like waiting. We want an answer now. But often, answers can’t be forced, and waiting is an excellent thing to do while we are thinking and deciding and choosing. And sometimes waiting helps to develop an answer.

—Quinn McDonald isn’t rushing. She is spending time waiting, and doing it without fidgeting.


Cleaning Up (Start With the Desk)

leaning-stack-of-papers-and-filesSome days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue. And some days you have to clean your desk, table, studio space. You just have to.

Either that or plow it under and call one of those reality shows where Ryan Seacrest shows up with 50 cat carriers and has a desperate housewife fire you and send you to rehab. I’m sorry, I don’t watch TV, so it all sounds alike. Back to cleaning.

Here are some tough love tips for cleaning that worked for me today.

1. Don’t look back. I tried being serious about saving all those articles I’ll read someday. Then I realized that if I really had wanted to read them, I would have. In the time that I’ve collected the articles, I’ve read four books. So I’m not really motivated to read the articles. Toss them.

This is a perfectionism stumble. “If I were a really good X, I would read, file, remember, sketch, write, use this article, image, scrap of ephemera.” Deep breath. It’s a perfectionist thing. Toss it.

Yes, you will probably need it within 10 minutes of the trash truck vanishing down the street with it. Toss it anyway.

2. You won’t buy it anyway. Catalogs marked with turned-down page corners for storage, filing, clothing items. Largely waiting for a windfall. When windfall comes, will need something else. Toss catalogs.

3. Compare and act. Two of the items I wanted in the winter catalog are now on half-price sale. Pick up phone and order. Done. Move on.

4. Even if you teach, throw it out. I have a huge stack of magazines, catalogs, flyers that are “perfect” for that collage class that I’m not teaching this month. Or next. More stuff will accumulate. Toss it out.

5. Start where you are. Don’t try to catch up. More paper is mistakenly saved because you are scared to throw it out, for fear of forgetting, falling behind or forgetting. Unless it bank or tax stuff, make NOW your starting point. Easier and saves the nerves.

–Quinn McDonald wishes she would clean up more often. The desk has a nice wood grain she rarely sees.


Working on the Competitive Spirit

Nothing against ambition and competition. Nope. They can be very useful. But turn them up too loud, and they become a burden. But I have an unbidden competitive streak that I’ve been working on for a while. It seems to be the cousin of the perfectionist tendencies I’ve been working on, too.

the_only_thing_i_m_addicted_to_is_winning_shirts-re8eacefe5d264e5ab2822f13bd4d3a00_vj71h_512Competition can be healthy and lead to brainstorming and creative blasts. But that’s not what is bedeviling me. Mostly it overcomes me when I’m doing research. I go from “that’s interesting,” to “how is that done?” to “I can do that,” to “I can do that better,” to a growl of:  “I T ‘ S   M  I  N  E  BWAHAHAHAHA!” Not attractive. Worse. Not useful. I don’t even notice the mindset until I feel cranky and hot.

With that feeling comes the need to be best, to excel, to climb the charts, to . . . be ruthless and uncaring. And that’s not at all who I want to be.

Now what? I am working on tiny steps. When someone shares an achievement, I imagessay, “I’m happy for you,” even if I’m not sure I’m happy.  It’s the right thing to say, and I’ll let my meaning it catch up with me later. If I feel my inner critic nudging me and saying, “you could do that too,” I call up my Inner Underdog Hero and say, “I have enough on my plate right now.”

When someone sends an email that says they are too busy to teach that class we were going to teach together; I let it go. OK, I work on letting it go. I’m not the boss of them. They get to make their own decisions. I do get to feel a tiny bit of hurt, but only for 20 minutes, then I move on. When I later see that they are teaching with someone else, I do not immediately assume it’s my fault. They got a better opportunity. Truly, if they do not want to teach with me, the class would not work out. I breathe through it. (Sometimes I have to use a paper bag. You know, a Trader Joe’s bag, till I feel grounded again.)

41a16308140c5716f774c925d022998dIt’s hard not to be competitive in an ugly way. The way that says “Winning is the only thing,” which I don’t believe. But there is that old, deep trigger. That desire to be best, first, and skilled.  I respect many of my competitors, respect their talent and the skills they have worked on. What I really need to work on it setting my own goals and steadfastly working toward them. Not get distracted by the flash of attention. I admire most the artists who dedicate their attention to creative work that enriches them and makes meaning for them. That’s my model. But it’s not easy.

Quinn McDonald is minding the high road, which seems a bit empty these days.



Aging Out. . .

How I know I am getting old:

images1. I RSVP when asked to. I can’t understand why you don’t. What part of Respondez, s’il vous plait do you not understand?

2. Don’t leave a voice mail? I won’t phone you back. I know your number is in my “recent” file. But you could have butt dialed by accident. If you leave a message, I know what you want and will phone you back with an update, not a “so why did you call?”

3. If I send you three times we can meet and you do not reply, I will book others into the spots. If you are surprised that I didn’t hold all spots for you until you make up your mind, you are too young to understand the practicality of time management.

4. If you think posting to my timeline on Facebook is a way to communicate with me about an important, personal subject, we need to talk. Talking is something old people do before texting and tweeting.

5. The answer to “Thank You” is “You’re Welcome.” Not, “No Problem,” because that means you thought I was going to be a problem and you grudgingly changed your mind but had to let me know I was a potential problem.

1262033941_juicy-asswriting6. I do not understand, nor care to, the word “Juicy” stitched in bright pink, bold letters, with glitter, across your butt on your too-tight leggings. Whether you are a size double zero or a 2X, I’ve worked really hard on feminist issues like equal pay and you are turning back the clock on my hard work on your behalf.

Quinn McDonald is beginning to think about the “good old days” and muttering “git off my lawn” at kids.

February Check-In: Word of the Year

How did your word of the year make it through January?

Helpful? Forgot it already? Working it through slowly?

platesMy word for the year is “scatter,” which I chose because it kept showing up in my dreams, even though I wasn’t sure it sounded like a word I would choose.  In January,  I understood one meaning more. It became really clear to me that I was spinning too many plates. (This was a skill on many variety shows during the middle of the last century). To keep all the plates spinning, you have to be fast, keep your attention on the different plates and move the sticks without losing focus. If you didn’t, the plates fell and broke.

too-many-spinning-plates1In January, I realized that scattering my attention to all the work I had was causing me to lose focus on the things I deeply want to do. While I decided years ago not to make my art pay the mortgage, I had too much on my . . .plate. And it was spinning.

So I made a decision to scatter my attention and energy less, and drop two of the money-makers I made. My energy will be transferred to attention to teaching more art classes, doing book-related events, and coaching. Doing less, but paying more attention to the things I want to do.

How did your word of the year change your routine in January?

At the beginning of each month, we’ll take a look at that word of the year and see how it is working for you. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know!

Quinn McDonald is launching her book locally on February 20 at Changing Hands Bookstore on February 20.

Got Will? (No? Get Busy)

Surprisingly (to me), I got a lot of fear reactions when I told some friends and clients I made a will in Arizona a few years ago.

Hand-written wills can be legal if witnessed and notarized, but ask your attorney, it varies from state to state.

Hand-written wills can be legal if witnessed and notarized, but ask your attorney, it varies from state to state.

“Are you dying?” is the question I got most often.
“Yes. We all are. Every day we get one day closer,” I’d say. What really surprised me is the reaction to that statement.
“Don’t say that. I’m fine.”
Well, sure you are, but everyday we are one day closer to the day we won’t be on this planet anymore.

Two friends, both of whom would raise their hands if asked for a roll-call of control freaks, have no wills. That surprised me. Wills give you control over what happens to much more than your stuff.

2. How are you planning your death? You know you are going to die sometime, right? If you hate surprises, don’t be caught by the ultimate surprise.  A will is a legal document that spells out what happens after you are dead. But you want to think about some things while you are still very alive. Here’s a few things to think about:

  • If you have children under the age of 18, who will take care of them?
  • If you have adult children living with you because they can’t make it on their own right now, who will take care of them?
  • If you have a lot of credit card debt, or general debt, or a big (or upside down) mortgage, what are the banks allowed to take when you die? Who is responsible for your debt? The one thing you can be sure of is that the banks don’t forgive your debt when you die. Your executor may be burdened with all your debt. Good enough reason to have a will.
Barbara Sue asked to have a parking meter on her gravestone. Her children made sure she got it. Yep, it says, "Expired."

Barbara Sue asked to have a parking meter on her gravestone. Her children made sure she got it. Yep, it says, “Expired.”

For people who own their own business, there are other questions that need to be thought about:

  • Who will tell your clients? This is particularly important is you are a sole proprietor, a coach, a consultant, or a therapist. You’ll need to make a client list with email and phone contact information, and keep it updated.
  • If you have clients, will you recommend someone to take your place?
  • If this list is on your computer, and there’s a password, you’ll have to include that information. In fact, there may be a lot of passwords you’ll need to classify and keep track of.
  • If you are an artist, writer, or do other creative work, what should happen to your unsold collection of work? Don’t assume you can donate it to state archives, libraries or museums. Many of them simply don’t want material that doesn’t have a high resale value.
  • Avoid fights after your death. If you have jewelry or heirlooms, write a list of who gets each item, and leave it with your will. You can change it as often as you like. Date and sign it with each update. Ask your attorney what sort of problems come up if you do this. I don’t own much high-value items, so it works fine for me. Your results may vary.

With social media the way to communicate, do you want your Facebook, Linked In and Twitter accounts closed when you die? It’s probably not a good idea to keep them open, because they become spam targets when not used regularly.

  • Write the statement you want distributed on your social networking sites and leave it with the passwords for each site. You might want to add the contact information of someone who will know about memorial information.
  • Let people know if you want your account “deactivated”–but kept accessible for information or “deleted” so no one can get information from those accounts.
  • If you do online banking, have  PayPal account, or do any shopping online, those access points to your money should be closed.

The major reason I started creating plans is not for when I’m dead, but while I’m busy dying. A living will or medical directives is paperwork every adult should create.  You don’t want a hospital, medic, or emotional family member making those important decisions. In fact, two members must agree on what is to be done for me. My husband may be overwhelmed by a decision, but another person may be clearer on what I want.

Your ideas might change over time, so update the documents if your convictions change.

Some other simple precautions to take: have a trusted relative or business partner as an additional signer on your bank accounts. If you die, your family should have access to the joint bank accounts.

Making a will does not mean you are ready to die, willing to die, or not afraid of dying. It simply means you care enough about your family not to leave them to clean up your mess. It’s the bigger equivalent of rinsing your own dishes and putting them into the dishwasher. If you don’t leave that for someone else, clean up your used dishes of life, too.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who has lived a full life and hopes to live many more years. Cleaning out the garage and making a will seem like good ideas.

Full Flavor, No Sugar

Flavor without sugar. It’s what diabetics want and it’s hard to find. Most “sugar-free” foods are loaded with either fat or fake sugars. And I don’t do well with fake sugars. (See the reviews on the 5-lb bag of sugar-free gummi bears on Amazon.)


So I’m after big, bold flavor. Spicy, deep, rich–foods with flavor is a diabetic’s Holy Grail.

Here’s a quick fix: dried orange peel. Yes, dried. Not chocolate covered, not sugar soaked, although I did love those for a long time, too.

It couldn’t be easier. Peel an orange. Remove some pith, although you don’t have to make yourself crazy getting it all off. Cut peel in strips. Put in 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 C) oven on a parchment covered sheet pan.  After 10 minutes, toss. Leave in for another 10 minutes. Check to make sure the peel doesn’t turn too dark. Cool. They should be crispy.

Put in a ziplock back and run a rolling pin over them till they are dust. Or put them through a spice grinder or a small blender. Done!

  • How can you use orange peel dust?
  • Sprinkle on cappuccino instead of (or with) cinnamon
  • Sprinkle on unflavored, unsweetened yogurt
  • Dust over oatmeal and skip the sugar
  • Add to tea with the tea leaves before brewing
  • Add 1/2 tsp. to diabetic-friendly chewy almond bars to change the flavor completely
  • Melt Black and Green dark chocolate (never tastes sour or bitter) add chopped nuts and a bit of the orange dust. Yum.
  • Mix into Greek yogurt and use it as a dip for apples and pears
  • Stir into whipped cream cheese and fill celery sticks
  • Blend a bit with 2 tsp of vanilla and cut into a cup of whipped cream. Use as a topping over fresh fruit.

Be very careful–a little goes a long way. Use less than you think. It’s easier to add more. You can do the same thing with lemon, lime and grapefruit peel. The lemon and lime make a great addition to salad dressing and sauces you put over fish and poultry.

Quinn McDonald is married to Kent, a personal chef who cooks interesting food that tastes good. Eating his diabetic-friendly food helped her lose 65 pounds in a year.

You Are Never “Done”

Right before I slide into “overwhelm” I realize how much I still have to do. It’s now just after 10 p.m and I’ve been up since 5:30 a.m., working. I’m trying to get to a point where I’m “done” and can go to bed. What a mistake. There is no

“done.” When I’ve finished paying the bills, I have to send invoices, and then I have to create the Powerpoint and do the outline and book my flight and remember what is left to do for the trip to Yuma and the one to Houston and. . . there is no end.

Which is a good thing, as steady work means money to pay the bills. But I have to decide how much to work each day. Sometimes a small machine in my head acts as if I will hit a magic end to the work, a big trumpet will sound and satisfaction will pour into my heart as money pours into my hands.

Instead, there is satisfaction in getting work done well, and a bit of panic in the work left undone, and when the whole thing balances out, it’s been a very good day.

Quinn McDonald has to buy cat food tomorrow, or the day will not end well. And she is teaching Tiny Journals at Arizona Art Supply on January 26.