Category Archives: Links, resources, idea boosts

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Fordite and Smoke

“You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.” Henry Ford is supposed to have said that about the Model T. And until 1908 it was true.  The first cars were all black. It was inexpensive and most machinery was black or gray, why not cars? Henry Ford then developed a paint that dried fast. It, too, was black. But in 1908, red and green became available. After that, colors became the norm.

Fordite ready for jewelry.

Fordite ready for jewelry.

Fast forward into the 1900’s. Cars were painted in special rooms that were dust free and allowed for spray painting. The walls became layered with paint. When the paint got too thick, it was broken off in chunks.

Some brilliant person saw the value in this old paint. It was hard and layered. It was waterproof and tough. It looked like agate. It became used in design and jewelry and was known as Detroit Agate or Fordite.

721cfd82201eb03e28e95c45387dc718Today it is used in making carvings, rings, pendants, fountain pen barrels, containers and design objects. It isn’t as hard as carved stone, and is prone to scratches, but it is hard enough to be beautiful.

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Smoke is ephemeral–it doesn’t last and you can’t hold it. Unless you photograph it, like Thomas Herbrich. This German photographer took 100,000 photos of smoke before he saw beautiful patterns that he could publish.

smoke1821Our brains want to see patterns and order, and Herbrich kept refining his skills until these amazing photographs emerged and made sense.

You can see all of the exhibition photos for the exhibition Smoke here. SMOKE_1909_HD

—Quinn McDonald has a weakness for the clever and ingenious.

 

Five Ways to Stay Organized

It’s Monday, and organizational skills might be running thin.  If you are at work, you may envy the CEO or agency head for their organizational skills. (And the help they have.) Even without administrative assistants, you can use the ideas and organize your day. Maybe even your week. Here are some tips.

1. Write everything down on one to-do list. Not one for personal items and one for work, but just one list. And while you are at it, write down all your fears and worries as well. The more you separate work, worries, events, appointments, the more your brain has to scramble to sort and repeat it. It’s called a rehearsal loop. (Daniel J. Levitin describes the neuroscience in his book.) That repetition makes the worries and work seem like its more and worse.  You don’t need the stress.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

2. Once it’s on a list, divide it into four categories. I got this great idea from Getting Things Done by David Allen:

  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it
  • Drop it

Now take those items and sort them using the Eisenhower method. Yep, that long-ago President. He  is supposed to have said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”  How do you divide urgent and important? Here’s the chart Eisenhower used:

Eisenhower-urgent-important3. Don’t read emails first. I know, that is not at all what you have been trained to do. When you read emails, you begin to answer them. It’s like opening your front door and having random people come in and ask for help. You wouldn’t dream of doing that. So don’t start the day with other people’s work. For the first hour at work, pay attention to your own work.

Using the chart above, and do two items from the “urgent and important” box and some action to move one “important but urgent” item one step ahead.

Bonus tip: Break down the whole chunk of work into smaller segments you can do in 20 minutes. That’s what goes down on your to-do list. If you see, “Write presentation for convention,” you will not know where to start. If you see, “brainstorm three ideas for presentation,” you will tackle it.

4. Send some emails. Your inbox is filled with what other people consider urgent but not important. Don’t fall for it. Fill up someone else’s inbox with what you consider urgent but not important. This doesn’t have to mean a direct report. Someone who is better at that task that you will do nicely. And say “please” early on.

If your boss has trained you to be available and ready to jump at the slightest notice, just open the boss’s emails and put them in one of those four categories.

Do not allow your boss to plan your day for you. You won’t have a decently planned day, and you won’t do enough for the boss anyway. Otherwise, your life will turn into this quote. (One of my favorites.)

d02bd27c2f315917f42326435dd12f805. Use your phone as a timer and reminder. Set your timer so you won’t be late for meetings and appointments. Use the same timer to divide your time so you can move several projects ahead. Think of it as a circuit workout at the gym–two minutes on 10 different machines builds better muscles and burns more fat. And fat-burning mode is great for Monday morning work.

Trying to work on one thing for a whole day will just turn you into someone who cleans their desk, makes four pots of coffee and stirs the office gossip pot. One of the best way to avoid getting caught up in office politics is to be busy getting your own work done. And you’ll feel virtuous.

There. Now you’ve done something worthwhile on Monday morning. And I have to get to work.

—Quinn McDonald makes her to-do list every night before she goes to bed. That keeps her worries written down so she can sleep well at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distilling the Journal

Small words and short sentences are powerful. Half a thought can pack a lifetime into a few words. Your mind fills in the rest, and that can be more color, action and more imagination than a long line of words.

I’ve been playing with distilling journal entries. (Distill is my word for the year, I switched to it halfway through the year.) Yesterday, I talked about using lists of words to journal. Today, they wind up in a tiny journal.

Trader Joe has tiny, cute metal boxes that hold mints. Re-purposing them into tiny journals is fun. I found some cardboard 35 mm slide mounts, and they fit perfectly into the box. (35 mm slides were pieces of film projected onto a screen before the digital age.)

Box7Empty, the slide mounts are just, well, cardboard. Using small pieces of paper, I created a front and a back for each slide. One side has words, the other a small image taken from a larger image–distilled.

Box2First I painted the slide mounts with Neocolor II. Then I took the words from journal entries, and let them be their own possibilities.

Box3

For some of them, I use pressed petals or pieces of fern. When you look closely, you see a lot more than if your eyes just pan the horizon looking for something new.

Box6After the paper is cut, I write a phrase on it, which may become a story on its own, or just a way to get me started thinking more imaginatively.

Box5Some papers are handmade, some printed. In each case, choosing just a few words or a small piece of beauty. It is both a way to focus and a way to let go of seeking perfection in the whole.

Box1The box holds five or six of the slides. They can tell a story on their own or be taken out and used as journal prompts. For right now, they are simply fine the way they are. They don’t have any more work to do.

How is your word of the year doing?

–Quinn McDonald is a distiller of words. She’s glad she changed her word of the year half way through this year.

 

 

Plan B is Not Negative Thinking

“If you plan for success, you’ll succeed, if you plan for failure, you will fail.” I’m a big believer in thinking positively, planning for success, and not feeding the inner critic.

I also believe that having a Plan B–what to do in the worst-case scenario–is an excellent idea. Those thoughts, which seem to be opposite, can be held at the same time quite successfully.

Aren’t they opposites? And if I have a Plan B, am I not planning for failure? I used to think that, too, until I had a really clear understanding of planning.

Plan B is a way of looking ahead, of seeing where the obstacles might be. This is exactly what I do when I’m on the motorcycle–I keep an eye out for an escape route. Can I stop if that car cuts in front of me? What will I do if that one brakes or swerves? It’s a moment-to-moment adjustment that has saved my life more than once. It’s not negative thinking. It’s planning a way through and then out.

mapBy thinking ahead, I am solving problems to avoid them. I am also making myself aware that I can face problems. And because I believe in learning by making mistakes, even by failing, planning the next step becomes a positive action. Studying what went wrong and figuring out how to fix it increases not only knowledge, but problem-solving skills.

And once I have a Plan B, I can turn toward the goal. Looking ahead to the goal is the best way to make steps to get there. If you constantly have to fight back the fear and refuse to face it, you aren’t being positive, you are wasting time chasing fear. Plan B is the realization that you are past the fear block, and are moving ahead to the goal.

The poet W.H. Auden wrote:

“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”

Fear prevents you from leaping. And not leaping prevents you from the full adventure that is your life. Planning and training for leaps keeps you prepared for whatever shows up.

--Quinn McDonald is re-thinking some of the tropes she’s lived with for a long time. It keeps her ready to leap.

Time to Clean Up Your Office

stack_of_paperSome 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 Donald Trump 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 to me.  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 perfectionist 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.

Begging The Question: Getting it Right

Ahem.

[tap, tap, tap].

Can everyone hear me? Thank you.

Today’s aggrieved English phrase is “begging the question.” First, what this phrase does not mean. Begging the question isn’t the same as “raising the question,” “asking the question,” or “brings up the question.” No. It is completely different.

“Begging the question” is an example of faulty logic. It actually has nothing to do

with asking a question. Another name for it is “begging the claim,” which makes the working parts easier to understand.

When someone begs the question, the speaker draws a conclusion, not from facts, but from something else stated in the sentence. For example:  Mean and ignorant people like John should never become department heads.

While “mean and ignorant people should not become department heads” is  logical, the very thing that needs to be proven—why John is not good leadership material—is assumed in the sentence.

log4p6Another example: She is a slob because she is unattractive.  Maybe the woman is unattractive, but that does not immediately make her a slob. More proof is needed. The sentence relies on proof that is assumed and not proven.

One more: Pollution-spouting monster trucks should be banned. The very conclusion that needs to be proven–that monster trucks create a lot of pollution—is missing. It’s just assumed.

Saturday bonus: Confusing words explained

Staunch means loyal or committed in support. “She was a staunch supporter of civil rights.” (It rhymes with paunch.)

Stanch means to stop or restrict, like a flow of blood. (It rhymes with blanch.)

Both words come from the same Old English (via Old French) word meaning “watertight.” While there is a strong trend to let both words mean both things, part of the beauty of the language is in the subtle differences in words that give specific, shaded and nuanced meanings to sentences.

Thank you.

Have a nice day.

—Quinn McDonald loves the English language in all it’s maddening confusion.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

It’s Not About Space

Most people have their creative play driven out of them by fourth grade. Children are told what art is, and lessons are generally about precision and not making a mistake. But art is about seeing and being. And making mistakes so you can fix them and learn to see better.

Making art isn’t about “stuff” either.  Art comes from within you, not through stencils, transparencies and puffy paints. I’m not saying they aren’t fun, or that creative play should be sparse. I am saying you don’t need to break the bank and become an art-product consumer to be an artist. It’s not what you own, it’s what you do with what you have.

justine_ashbee1Here are two great examples of what I mean. Both of these people can’t NOT make art. They stand in the flow of time and art and the work pours out of them because there is no other choice. They have their own ideas of what art is, and the only tool either one of them uses is a Sharpie pen.

ashbee_web61Justine Ashbee uses good paper along with her Sharpie. Her flowing lines and subtle use of color are incredibly beautiful art. She does it freehand. It comes from within her. It’s the flow of art. You couldn’t stop her creative work because it makes meaning. It doesn’t need to be supported with a million products.

Charlie Kratzer, the other artist, does a totally different kind of work. He decorated his entire basement with a black Sharpie. OK, it was more than one. It was $10 worth. The rest was his creativity, his ideas, his desire to decorate his life.

Kratzer is a lawyer, and started with one line in the basement–a line that began a mural around his basement wall. The mural is not just furniture and columns and wainscoting, although it is all that.

The art spans literature and popular culture, Picasso and Churchill. I could list all the things on the wall, but there is a wonderful video and article that does a much better job.

Being creative is not about owning stuff, buying stuff, or having a fabulous studio to store the stuff. Right now there it’s popular to have artists’ studios in magazines, along with descriptions about how this big, airy, wonderful space is exactly what every artist needs. Yes, it’s nice to have lots of space and storage, but thinking you need 300 square feet with special furniture before you can create is the same as thinking you aren’t an artist until you have four bins of stuff.

Creativity is making meaning in your life. Anyway you can. No excuses. Get busy doing one thing that you love. It’s fine if you think you can’t. Just get into the studio and start. The rest will wash over you and sweep you away in art.

—Quinn McDonald is using her old stuff to create new stuff.